Super Bowl ads: the good, the bad and the boozy

Often designed as mini-movies in their own right, Super Bowl ads are perhaps the biggest global showcase of the sheer might of the advertising industry.

For one night only, companies spend a small fortune to highlight their biggest launches in a series of adverts that are almost as highly anticipated as the football game itself.

With Apple Music sponsoring this year’s half-time show (headlined by none other than Rhianna), AB InBev allowing alcohol brand rivals to advertise for the first time and a host of beer, food and digital services leading the charge, this year’s Super Bowl looks set to be as much of a talking point as it has ever been. And there’s some people playing football as well, of course.

Companies are already releasing star-studded teasers and full versions of their ads ahead of Sunday’s game, with celebrities including Sylvester Stallone, Brian Cox, Dave Grohl, Diddy and of course the stars of Breaking Bad, who have reunited for the ad after ten years apart.

Helping us break down the Super Bowl ad numbers, analyse their effectiveness and see what’s instore for this year is System1 chief customer officer Jon Evans. So, what will 2023 deliver?

One of the buzziest ads of last year’s Super Bowl was Coinbase’s QR code ad. Was it effective?

“The answer depends on whether you’re looking at the short-term impact or the long-term brand building effects. The answer to the former is yes and the latter is no. The ad achieved its short-term activation goal – so many people scanned the QR code that Coinbase’s site crashed.

“But System1’s analysis of 18,000 ads finds that as an ad improves its long-term brand building potential, it also gets better, on average, at achieving short-term results. Thus, advertisers should take advantage of their Super Bowl investment by creating ads that prioritize delivering long-term market share gain and profit gain. The ads that do this exceptionally have a higher chance of also driving short-term sales.”

Super Bowl stats
Source: System1, analysis of 18,230 UK ads tested (June 2018 to November 2022)

What’s been the best brand-building ad of the last several years?

“It’s perhaps an unlikely winner in that it’s not from a snack, candy, auto or alcohol brand, but for diapers instead. Huggies 2021 ad didn’t feature a celebrity or lead with a catchy soundtrack like many do, but it did deliver on humour, timeliness and cuteness.

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“We know that babies and animals tend to elicit positive emotional responses, but since lots of brands use them in their marketing, the risk is that you get lost in the mix. Huggies made their story unique with a voiceover aimed at the babies and an up-close-and-personal look at life as a young child.

“On System1’s Test Your Ad platform, which assigns a long-term brand building score ranging from 1 to 5.9-Stars, the ad received 5.4-Stars and an exceptional brand recognition score.”

With AB InBev no longer the exclusive alcohol advertiser of the Super Bowl, it’s going to be a much boozier landscape. How can alcohol brands make their mark with audiences?

“There’s going to be a lot of beer ads this year and spots for spirits too. Understanding how the brain processes different styles of advertising is key. Orlando Wood’s books Lemon and Look out take a deep dive into the psychology of successful advertising. Creative that features right-brain elements is more likely to drive market share growth than ads that rely heavily on left-brain elements.

“Right-brain advertising can include a clear sense of place, scenes unfolding in progression, characters and interaction between them, cultural references, melodic music and more. Meanwhile, left-brain features are voiceovers, words on the screen, close-up shots of products and body parts, freeze-frame effects and rhythmic music.

“They’re designed to catch our narrow-beam attention and as a result, don’t lend themselves well to long-term brand building.”

This year’s teasers are filled with celebrity appearances, so we’ll undoubtedly see many more on game day. What’s the secret to success when working with famous figures?

“The Super Bowl attracts viewers from every demographic in a way that no other US event does. Celebrities are widely recognised, so it’s no surprise that many brands continue to leverage their star power. But it’s important to remember that the inclusion of a celebrity is not enough to ensure success.

“Brands need to lean on the strengths of the actor, musician, comedian or athlete. If they’re known for humor, let them play that part. Make sure they make sense in the overall story and understand that every partnership has some level of risk. Your brand wants to share the spotlight with a celebrity, not the shadow of a reputational crisis.”

Similar to celebrities, do you think we’ll see brands bringing back familiar characters? What are their benefits?

“‘Fluent devices’ as Wood refers to recurring characters and scenarios are especially useful for signaling the brand to viewers and eliciting an emotional response. From Sam Adams’ ‘Your Cousin from Boston’ to Planters’ Mr. Peanut and Busch’s “Busch Guy,” certain brands have put in the work to create and consistently use their characters to enhance long-term brand building.

“Wood’s research finds that campaigns with recurring characters developed by the brand are more successful at delivering market share gain and profit gain compared to ‘hired devices,” which are celebrities and franchised characters. However, that’s not to say that the latter can’t perform well.

“Bill Murray revisited his Groundhog’s Day character in a Super Bowl ad for Jeep that scored 5.2-Stars and we recently saw Asda use Will Ferrell’s Elf in its Christmas ad, which landed the maximum score.

“Viewers love homegrown characters and borrowed ones when they have an entertaining story to tell.”

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