The Super Bowl is the biggest event of the year for advertisers, who this year spent a reported $6.5 million for each 30-second airtime slot. With a typical audience of about 100 million U.S. viewers, the game is an opportunity to win over new customers and polish a brand's image.
This year, the game featured a: Cryptocurrency companies eager to broaden their appeal. There were also longtime marketers on view, such as beer makers like Budweiser and car companies including BMW and Nissan.
The winning ads reinforced their brand image with customers while also serving a dollop of creativity, according to marketing experts. Overall, this year's crop of Super Bowl ads aimed for the funny bone, with few somber or serious ads in the mix. Celebrities and nostalgia were also present in many of Sunday night's commercials.
"The advertising in the Super Bowl this year was relentlessly upbeat," said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and co-lead of the school's Ad Review. "Usually we see a real mix of serious spots, and emotional spots mixed in with funny spots. This year, though, it was an incredibly positive collection of advertising."
He added, "The other thing that was striking was that there was virtually no mention of the pandemic — no one in masks, no discussion of staying at home. It suggests people are ready to get back out there and they don't want to hear about the virus."
So which ads were the winners? A panel of experts at the Kellogg School graded the ads on business-related metrics, such as whether the ad was memorable and unique as well as whether it tied into brand messaging.
The best ads this year include Coinbase, whose striking ad featured a QR code floating across the screen, Kellogg said. The ad, which dangled a free $15 bitcoin giveaway, drove enough viewers to Coinbase to crash the site.
The response to the Coinbase ad suggests "they had a bigger response than they were planning for," which is a sign of marketing success, Calkins noted. On the other hand, the ad didn't convey an emotion, unlike most Super Bowl ads — but it got people talking and its format was unexpected, he said.
Other top-ranked ads, based on Kellogg's panel assessment, included the celebrity-studded Uber Eats ad. That spot featured Jennifer Coolidge, Trevor Noah, Gwyneth Paltrow and Nick Braun from "Succession" as they tried to eat non-edible products like diapers and lightbulbs. The business school praised the ad for its strong branding and its clear message.
"It was unique; it had terrific branding and it delivered a message," Calkins said. "All the way through, you knew it was for Uber Eats."
The downside, he added, was that the image of people eating kitty litter and diapers wasn't exactly enticing: "These are the sort of things you recoil from," Calkins added.
Other top-rated ads from the Kellogg panel included Amazon's Alexa ad, which featured actor Scarlet Johansson and her husband, comedian Colin Jost, about what would happen if the device could read their minds.
The Doritos/Cheetos ad also earned an "A" from the Kellogg panel, which Calkins said was simple and effectively conveyed the brand's image. The spot featured sloths and other animals singing to Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It" as they consume Flamin' Hot Doritos and Cheetos snacks from bags dropped by a wildlife observer.
Two commercials earned the worst grade, an "F," from the Kellogg School: Salesforce and Taco Bell. The problems with those ads were that they failed to link to the brand. The Salesforce ad, for example, featured actor Matthew McConaughey as an astronaut who preaches that humanity should focus on improving life on Earth. The ad didn't tie back to Salesforce until the very end of the commercial.
"You could have taken out Salesforce and put in almost any other brand in the world — that's never a good sign," Calkins said. "In that ad, there was no product benefit. There was no reason to contact Salesforce for any purpose."
Viewers, though, had differing opinions about the best ads in the game. According to the USA Today Ad Meter, which relies on votes from more than 100,000 viewers, the best ad was the Rocket Homes and Rocket Mortgage ad featuring Barbie's Dream House with actor Anna Kendrick and Barbie.
Consumers also had different views of the ads voted the best and worst by the Kellogg experts. For instance, the USA Today Ad Meter ranked the Salesforce ad as No. 36 out of 66 ads ranked in USA Today's Ad Meter ranking. Conversely, they also placed the Coinbase ad in the bottom spot, at No. 66.
Below are the ads, ranked from "A" to "F" by the Kellogg School.
Avocados from Mexico
Google Pixel 6
Bud Light Seltzer Soda
Amazon Prime Video
Independent Restaurant Coalition
Michelob ULTRA Organic Seltzer
Bud Light NEXT
—With reporting by the Associated Press.
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