Super Bowl 50 commercials: Winners and losers

Every game has winners and losers, and that also goes for Super Bowl commercials.

The game ranks as the single most expensive day for advertisers, given the premium companies are willing to pay to reach the broadcast's built-in audience of more than 100 million viewers. Super Bowl 50 earned an average household rating of 49 percent, which means almost half of America's homes with TV sets tuned in (Super Bowl 50 was broadcast by CBS, the parent of CBSNews.com and CBS MoneyWatch).

Advertisers aimed for an upbeat tone in this year's Super Bowl, following last year's more serious-minded commercials. Humor can be a winning strategy, as well as cute animals, research from Ace Metrix has found. Both strategies were in evidence last night, including Heinz's hot dog-costumed wiener dogs and Honda's singing sheep.

From a business perspective, the best ads accomplish two goals: They stand out from the blitz of commercials Americans are exposed to every day, as well as provide viewers a reason to buy the product, said Tim Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, which ranks the Super Bowl ads annually on their marketing effectiveness.

The winner of Super Bowl 50's commercial game, according to the Kellogg School's rankings, relied on a combination of humor and celebrities: Toyota's Prius spot, which starred four actors from the HBO series "The Wire," tracked bank robbers who use a Prius as a getaway car and are amazed at its speed and great mileage.

"The entire spot revolved around the fact that it was a Prius, and that's always what you want in the spot," Calkins said. "You want the action of the spot to revolve around the brand, and that was a case where it really happened."

On the other hand, the Super Bowl's loser also used humor, but the ad fell flat, according to Calkins. The worst-rated spot was delivered by website company Squarespace, with the Kellogg School giving it a failing grade. The spot featured the comedy duo of Key and Peele as wannabe sports broadcasters, but the commercial failed to highlight the brand or what differentiated it from rivals such as Wix.com, whose ad scored much higher.

"The were also the lowest scoring last year," Calkins said. "That was a case where the brand and the message just get lost."

Squarespace was the sole marketer to earn an F from the Kellogg School's review, which relies on a panel of marketing students and professors who rate the ads based on criteria such as their distinctiveness and how well they tie in with the brand.

Six companies earned A's from the Kellogg School review, including the winner, Prius. The other five winners were: Audi, Budweiser, Doritos, T-Mobile and TurboTax.

Budweiser, which has aired some of the most popular Super Bowl ads of the past five years, took a sharp detour from its prior use of adorable puppies and Clydesdales. Why? Because the cute animals, while fan favorites, may not have been helping to sell more beer, Calkins said.

"The Super Bowl was a huge creative shift for Budweiser. The sweet stories weren't just working. Everyone loved them, but it wouldn't get people to drink more Budweiser."

The new approach -- featuring scenes of people making Budweiser, delivering it and drinking it, with taglines like ""Not imported" and "Not a fruit cup" -- was "the right direction," Calkins said. "They are really fighting for marketshare and its place in the industry, and that's what you are seeing in the advertising."

While the Kellogg School ranks the ads based on their marketing prowess, other Super Bowl commercial rankings rely on everything from social media buzz to how viewers react to the ads. USA Today's Ad Meter, for instance, ranked Hyundai's "First Date" as the winner, based on the responses of 20,000 viewers. The spot featured comedian Kevin Hart as he used car-tracking technology to keep tabs on his daughter and her date. In Kellogg's ranking, the Hyundai earned a B.

On Twitter, the top-mentioned brand wasn't even technically part of the Super Bowl. That honor went to Esurance, which aired a spot before kickoff and so technically wasn't considered a game advertiser.

Still, its ad touting a Twitter-based sweepstakes helped garner more than 1.8 million tweets during the game, according to Amobee Brand Intelligence. The second-most mentioned brand was Doritos, with more than 300,000 tweets.

Below are the Super Bowl commercials ranked by grade, according to the Kellogg School.

Earned an "A"

  • Audi
  • Budweiser
  • Doritos
  • T-Mobile
  • Toyota
  • TurboTax

Earned a "B"

  • Advil
  • Amazon
  • Colgate
  • Dollar Shave Club
  • Fit Bit
  • Heinz
  • Hyundai
  • Jeep
  • Kia
  • Mini Cooper
  • Marmot
  • PayPal
  • Quicken Loans
  • Schick
  • Shock Top
  • Snickers
  • Subaru
  • Taco Bell
  • Wix.com

Earned a "C"

  • Axe
  • Avocados from Mexico
  • Butterfingers
  • Coca Cola
  • Death Wish Coffee
  • Honda
  • Michelob
  • Mobile Strike
  • Mountain Dew
  • OIC
  • Pepsi
  • Pokemon
  • Skittles
  • Weather Tech
  • Xifaxan

Earned a "D"

  • Acura
  • Apartments.com
  • Buick
  • Jublia
  • LG
  • Persil
  • SoFi
  • SunTrust

Earned an "F"

  • Squarespace