The game was close – the advertising battle really wasn’t. At least that’s if you take USA Today’s Ad Meter rankings seriously – and as an overnight measure, we do. While they aren’t perfect, their simple measurement of how likeable an ad was stands as a reasonable instant proxy for a more in-depth emotional assessment. According to USA Today’s scores, Budweiser is – yet again – the Super Bowl champion, romping to a win with a direct sequel to last year’s “Puppy Love” in the form of “Lost Dog”.
“Lost Dog” tweaks the formula a little: a slowed-down cover version rather than a famous original song, a new antagonist in the form of a wolf, and last year’s hint of a love story is shunted aside so the ad can go big on its dog-horse bromance. Will the changes help “Lost Dog” maintain the five-star status of previous ads in the sequence, once we test it more rigorously? You’ll have to pop into our results Webinar on the 17th to find out. But we wouldn’t bet against it.
Once you have a five-star ad, building on it is a good idea – think of how Coke’s “Holidays Are Coming” spot performs well every year at Christmas and has become a seasonal fixture. Budweiser are doing everything right. But despite its Super Bowl dominance, the brand has a tough task – structural changes in the beer market mean that all mass-market beers are losing share as an upsurge of interest in craft beer among younger consumers eats away at their base. Five-star emotional advertising gives them their best chance of stemming the decline at a brand-building level, and the repeated horse and puppy motif is a good example of a brand creating famous advertising year-on-year. Ultimately, though, their problem is a behaviour change one as much as it is a brand one.
The rest of this year’s ads seem a little more subdued than usual: humour, and even great storytelling, are in relatively short supply, with an edit of Fiat’s “Blue Pill” ad standing out in both categories. (It also made #25 in our FeelMore50 list of the most emotional global ads!) Fiat’s success highlights another mini trend – even without a big production from Volkswagen, it’s been a strong year for car ads, as top brands seem happy to trust in emotion over rival product claims. Dodge’s “Wisdom” is a strong, simple example – point a camera at some centenarians, and let their inspirational advice carry the ad.
Inspirational is also the dominant tone for this year’s crop of “Dadvertising” commercials. Commentators have noted how there’s been a swing away from the ‘doofus Dad’ familiar as a comic figure in ads towards more positive portrayals of fatherhood. That’s true, but it’s also true that parenting as a whole has been a big theme of recent emotional advertising – as we pointed out only last month. It’s no surprise Dads are getting their share. In fact, compared to the best examples we’ve seen, some of the Super Bowl Dadvertising seemed a bit flat and obvious. Toyota’s “My Bold Dad” is an exception, though – too much voiceover, but a strong story with the kind of twist that helps people feel more.
Another continuing trend is towards a positive reception for ads with a social message. No More’s smart, extremely powerful domestic violence PSA deserved the accolades and positive response it received. Always’ “#likeagirl” transferred a very successful web viral to TV in a tightened-up edit – shorter is usually better with these kind of ads. As human beings, we care more about other people than we do about brands, so social messages are more emotionally potent than pure brand messages. Though sometimes the combination of brand, ad and worthy take-away can seem a little forced – Jeep’s “Beautiful Lands” montage was a great National Geographic commercial wrapped in a car ad’s skin.
There are lessons to be learned down at the bottom of the USA today rankings, too. OK, perhaps there isn’t much that could be done to salvage an ad about toenail fungus, but a lot of the ads people hated shared one very familiar problem: an overdose of voiceover waffle. Take the GEICO ad above. It’s got a strong image – Salt N Pepa singing “Push It” to people about to push buttons – but with only 15 seconds, the voiceover has to do some extremely heavy lifting to connect the gimmick with the overly complex call to action, and the ad simply runs aground. Better just to make a joke and leave people feeling happy about GEICO!
Nothing kills a good ad like excess voiceover, and that rule is even stronger at the Super Bowl. There’s a reason for that, one we stress every year. The Super Bowl is the one night of the year when brands are expected to make Americans feel something – entertain them, make them laugh, make them cry, get them angry or concerned. Product messages just don’t do that. But the benefits of emotional advertising for brands are available all year round, for those brave enough to try and make every night Super Bowl night.
We are testing the best of this year’s Super Bowl ads using our award winning ComMotion methodology. For the lowdown on the results, and on how to make trends in effective advertising work for you, sign up for our free webinar on the 17th February.