The 2015 Super Bowl featured serious, emotional advertising. While the event usually tends to skew more towards humor, this year the laughs were in short supply.
Overall the advertising was strong. Marketers are clearly focusing on creating spots that will resonate broadly and build both sales and the brand.
Still, this year had its highs and lows. During the Super Bowl, a panel of 67 Kellogg MBA students evaluated all the spots with an emphasis on strategic rigor. The panel’s focus was not on liking or disliking of the ads; the focus was on the following question: Is the execution likely to build the brand and the business?
Here are the results, along with some analysis from me and my colleague, Professor Derek D. Rucker.
McDonalds has struggled in recent years, but on Sunday the brand ran a very strong Super Bowl spot. The ad, announcing a promotion that lets people to pay with love instead of cash, was heart-warming. Brand linkage was particularly strong; it was impossible to miss that this was an ad for McDonalds.
Fixing McDonalds is more difficult than creating a strong Super Bowl spot but this is a good first step.
Bud and Bud Light
AB InBev ran three very strong spots this year.
The Budweiser Clydesdale spot was a classic. The ad told a sweet story about a puppy and his relationship with the horses. As in the past, branding, linkage and distinction were all strong.
Budweiser also ran an ad attacking craft beers, mocking aspects such as their fruity flavors. This is classic defensive strategy. It takes finesse to pull this off but Bud presented a credible message.
Bud Light sent another unsuspecting fellow on a remarkable trip in this year’s “up for whatever” spot. The ad also had clear branding.
AB InBev knows how to create great Super Bowl ads, especially when it comes to the art of making sure the branding comes across.
Coke did a terrific job connecting its brand promise of happiness with a significant issue in the world: negative on-line comments. The spot had exceptionally strong branding, built upon earlier campaigns, and broke through the clutter on the Super Bowl.
P&G ran an unusual spot for the Always brand. The ad featured interviews with adults and kids about the phrase “like a girl” and asked people to consider why “like a girl” isn’t positive. The ad, which also featured a longer version posted earlier on You Tube, broke through the Super Bowl clutter with a distinctive voice. It was unique and engaging. This pulled people in. Despite the limited and late branding the spot worked.
Clash of Clans
It isn’t easy to advertise a video game on TV. Clash of Clans pulled it off with a terrific spot featuring Liam Neeson. The ad captured his fascination with the game and did it in an entertaining fashion. The positioning came through.
Fiat aired one of the most intriguing spots on the Super Bowl. An Italian fellow reaches for the little blue pill, with hopes of some romance, but he accidently throws the pill out the window. It lands in a Fiat’s gas tank. This transforms the little car, resulting in the new, larger Fiat 500 X. The Italian setting helps brand linkage; only Fiat could do this spot. The ad delivers a product message in a clever way.
BMW had, without a doubt, the most remarkable piece of footage on the game. The clip of Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel talking about the internet twenty-one years ago was absolutely fabulous. It is remarkable how far we have come.
The concept of this ad was good but the execution was a little off. The spot compared the internet to i3, BMW’s new electric car. This wasn’t quite right; the comparison should have been to an electric car. Also missing was the BMW equity; Katie and Bryant certainly weren’t enjoying the ultimate driving experience.
You don’t need to spend millions creating a Super Bowl spot. Victoria’s Secret pieced together some old footage and created a very successful ad. Branding was clear, the benefit came through and the ad fit with Victoria’s Secret’s equity.
The second ad in the Super Bowl, for Turbo Tax, stood out. The spot featured scenes from the Revolutionary War and hypothesized that if the colonists could have filed their taxes for free, as they now can with Turbo Tax, then perhaps they never would have revolted.
The ad was distinctive and communicated a benefit: you can file for free with Turbo Tax.
You would think that after so many years of silly Doritos ads they would get old. They have found a means, through crowdsourcing, to keep the work fresh. Doritos ran two spots, developed through the Crash the Super Bowl promotion, and both worked well. Branding was strong. More important, Doritos featured prominently in the ad.
The team at Frito-Lay deserves credit for sticking with a winning formula.
Website provider Wix takes the prize for using the most NFL players in one spot. The brand’s ad showed a series of players building websites. Brett Favre, for example, builds the site “Favre and Carve.” It actually is a website: https://www.favreandcarve.com/
Wix had strong branding and communicated a benefit. Wix is easy enough for NFL players can use it to build a site, so you can use it too.
Three advertisers saluted fathers during the Super Bowl. Dove did the best job linking this noble message to the brand. The brand’s heart-warming spot focused on caring and linked it to Dove Men+Care, a new line of skin-care products.
Last year Microsoft had one of the strongest spots on the Super Bowl. This year the brand returned and ran two ads saluting the role of technology in the world. Both ads worked well but late branding had an impact on brand linkage.
Mercedes took the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare to a new level with its Super Bowl spot. The spot worked because the impressive Mercedes vehicle was integral to the story.
Pierce Bronson starred in a distinctive spot for Kia. When you think Kia, Pierce Bronson isn’t the first person you think of. He would drive a BMW, wouldn’t he? This ad works because it seems credible. Kia has an impressive vehicle. Perhaps it something Pierce would want, after all.
It is tempting to develop a totally new campaign for the Super Bowl. This is often a mistake; it is risky and you lose the connection to your existing advertising. Discover stuck with its existing campaign for its Super Bowl spot and this was a successful play. The ad was one of the few that used humor and it communicated a differentiating product feature about Discover.
T-Mobile’s spots did what Super Bowl ads need to. They stood out, by featuring celebrities. They communicated benefits: Wi-Fi calling and rollover data. Of the two, the Kardashian spot was better; it had stronger branding and a simpler message.
Avocados from Mexico
Arguably the funniest spot this year was for avocados from Mexico. The scenario: countries are drafting animals. After Australia picks the kangaroo, Mexico picks the avocado, passing by a disappointed polar bear.
The spot was charming and had solid branding. There just wasn’t a lot about the joys of eating avocados.
Several years ago Chevrolet ran a spot featuring the end of the world. Mophie used the same creative idea this year to dramatize what happens when your cell phone runs out of juice. The spot was entertaining, with some amusing and distinctive scenes. It also leveraged an insight.
This issue in this spot was linkage: did the brand come through?
This year the award for best product placement goes to Skittles; the Super Bowl broadcast showed Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch eating some before the game.
The brand then ran a solid ad on the Super Bowl with people fighting over the last Skittles.
Reaching 100 years old is an accomplishment. To celebrate its 100th year, Dodge interviewed a number of senior citizens. The spot had great breakthrough; it really stood out on the game. Linkage could have been stronger; it wasn’t clear how the words of wisdom related to Dodge. It also isn’t clear if being 100 years old is a reason to buy one brand of car over another. Haven’t most car brands been around for a while?
GoDaddy had to pull its initial Super Bowl spot last week after people let the company know that they hated it. This clearly was a setback for the firm; GoDaddy ended up airing a spot that didn’t break through and didn’t offer much of a benefit.
Weight Watchers dramatized why losing weight is so hard. The spot was distinctive and identified an insight, but branding was weak and it lacked a clear benefit.
At one level, it is surprising that Snickers didn’t do better with the Kellogg panel. The ad had many of the key elements: it got attention, showed a benefit and built on an existing campaign. It might be that using a very old show like the Brady Bunch limited the ad’s appeal with regard to amplification and linkage. It has been many, many years since that show received broad viewing.
One of the stranger spots on the Super Bowl this year was for Loctite. It featured a collection of ordinary people dancing in an unattractive fashion. They all wore Loctite fanny-packs. It isn’t clear why someone would carry glue in a pouch. Are there different types of glue, so you need a pouch to carry them all? This spot is confusing and unappealing all at the same time.
Still, this spot was distinctive and had solid branding.
Game of War
Game of War’s spot featured Kate Upton. It was visually striking. One potential issue was linkage. It wasn’t clear that this spot was for a video game until the end; it looked a lot like a movie trailer.
Last year Weathertech ran a spot that lacked linkage. The message was about made in the U.S. and didn’t show much of the product.
This year’s spot from Weathertech was better because it was more product-focused. Still, the ad didn’t rise to the top. It may be that “Made in the U.S.” isn’t the most compelling benefit.
Essurance ran a spot that was distinctive and unnerving. It lacked a compelling benefit.
Toyota saluted fathers and bravery. The brand seemed to have invested heavily in this campaign. Unfortunately, the effort lacked linkage to the brand. How does Toyota link to fathers any more than Chevy or Audi or Kia?
Nationwide ran two very different spots on the Super Bowl. The first featured Mindy Kaling and highlighted that customers aren’t invisible at Nationwide. This spot had some issues: weak linkage and a questionable benefit. Still, it was engaging and stood out.
The brand then ran a spot featuring a deceased child. The goal was to highlight Nationwide’s work preventing accidents, a noble cause. Unfortunately, at best the ad fell flat. A message about a dead child simply is hard to swallow during the Super Bowl, a festive time enjoyed with friends, family, and kids.
Pharmaceutical advertising isn’t easy. The FDA requires fair-balance, so any positive message has to be off-set with warnings. Despite this, Jublia came through with a reasonable ad on the Super Bowl. If you have issues with toe fungus, you might want to ask your doctor about Jublia.
One of the longest spots on the Super Bowl was for Jeep. This remarkable ninety-second ad showed scenes from all around the world to the tune, “This land is your land.”
The spot was beautiful. It was distinctive and attracted attention. The problem was that the ad was based on a questionable strategy: environmental friendliness. Jeep was hoping to communicate that it has the smallest, lightest SUV, so the environmental impact on this wonderful world would be modest. The logic doesn’t quite hold together. The ad is a great one for the books in terms of the various goals great advertising has to cater to.
Perhaps if Jeep had focused on the joy of exploring this land it would have worked better.
This was a beautiful and impactful spot. It featured scenes of cruising and a voice over about the sea from John F. Kennedy.
The ad was distinctive and broke-through the clutter. It also showed cruising in a positive light.
Sprint ran one of the hardest-hitting ads on the Super Bowl, essentially saying that Verizon and AT&T were donkeys. The ad communicated a benefit and had solid breakthrough.
The NFL’s scary spot for domestic abuse was risky but may have ended up having limited impact. The ad ran just before half-time, at a moment when people were focused on the upcoming Katy Perry show. We suspect most people missed the terrifying scene.
To stand out on the Super Bowl, you have to be distinctive. Lexus ran two spots that featured cars driving in a dynamic fashion. This isn’t enough to achieve breakthrough on a stage this big.
Of the three brands saluting fathers, Nissan was least effective, according to the Kellogg panel. The spot, a wistful look at a neglected child, featured a sober message and virtually no linkage. Whether or not people would take away an upbeat message at the end is uncertain. For this reason, the lack of linkage might have been good; connecting this sad tale to Nissan is unlikely to help the brand. Still, overall, not a strong branded message.
Other D grades: Skechers, Geico, Heroes Charge.
Squarespace missed this year with an ad featuring Jeff Bridges. It wasn’t clear what the ad was for or how Squarespace fit in. This creates significant concerns about positioning. The spot, featuring a lot of “ommmm” may have garnered some initial attention, but it needed a big payoff. There wasn’t any.
You say that the students “…evaluated all the spots with an emphasis on strategic rigor. The panel’s focus was not on liking or disliking of the ads; the focus was on the following question: Is the execution likely to build the brand and the business?”
What is defined as strategic rigor? What was the methodology for the grading?
Rick—Thanks for the post. We use a framework call ADPLAN to evaluate the spots. You can read more about it here. It should be an interesting collection of ads this year.
Thanks for the wonderful analysis of the ads. As the dad of a 11 year old girl, the Always brand ad was an arrow straight into the heart of any parent that wants their daughter to grow up in a country that provides opportunities for all. Kudos P&G.
Only a C grade for the dead kid ad? Really? I think its an F minus – while O&M may have thought this a smart way to break the SB ad cycle, it clearly was over thought and self serving even if the company claims they weren’t selling insurance. I think the ad completely missed the branding mark and created a negative space – – at what lengths did they think about the unfortunate consequences of having your 8 year old beside you on the couch and ask ‘why did that boy die’? Not the type of SB conversation to get into – wrong ad, wrong place, wrong idea. To borrow another brand meme: “Brilliant!”… (not)
No review for Ecuador?
The synopsis for carnival and snickers doesn’t seem to match the grade…..students too young for bradys and jfk? JFK squarely aimed at boomers (target market likely to cruise). Snickers probably should have gone younger…unless they have great sales among boomers/gen x?
What about Reebok? Guess you aren’t a cross fitter.
i kinda agree with PA. Ecuador ad owned them all. Very appealing.. great ad! makes me wanna fly there right away. lol.
How about the Ecuador ad?
First time a foreign nation buys a spot and you completely ignore it? https://www.travelpulse.com/news/destinations/ecuador-to-make-history-with-first-ever-tourism-super-bowl-ad.html
Thanks for the comment! We only review the national Super Bowl spots. I believe the Ecuador ad ran in a number of local markets. I liked the spot…good breakthrough and benefit.