Super Bowl 50: The 10 Best Ads, The 5 Biggest Myths

The pundits said that humour would dominate Super Bowl 50. And while there wasn’t much to smile about if you were a Carolina Panthers fan, for everyone else the pundits were exactly right. Many of the Top 10 ads of the 2016 Super Bowl go straight for the funnybone. And that’s good news – ads that make people feel more also make people buy more, and little feels better than laughter.

We were able to test all the night’s ads overnight thanks to our research partners ZappiStore, and can reveal that a mighty eight ads hit our 5-Star rating (in total, around 4% of all ads get this score.) There were duds too – though let’s be fair, if you’ve made an ad starring a man in a human-size toenail fungus suit, “feelgood” may not be what you’re aiming for. But here’s a quick tour of some of the 4- and 5-star winners in the Top 10 – and along the way, a gentle puncturing of five persistent Super Bowl myths.

MYTH #1: HUMOUR HAS BEEN OFF THE SUPER BOWL AGENDA RECENTLY

All the hype in recent years may have been around “sadvertising”, but let’s face it – humour has never been a stranger to Super Bowl advertising, to the point where some marketing academics (who should know better!) tutted about this year being ‘predictable’. The flag-bearer for funny ads in the 2010s has been Doritos, whose crowdsourced ‘Crash The Super Bowl’ ads have been consistent 5-Star hits. This year, they finally hit the Number One spot, with “Dogs”, a joyful little commercial pitting three hungry hounds against the forces of authority. Congratulations, Doritos, on the most emotional and best spot of Super Bowl 50!

MYTH #2: SOME CATEGORIES ARE FUNNIER THAN OTHERS

Dorito’s make laughter look easy. But any brand can do its best to put an amusing spin on its advertising. Case in point, the sackful of 5-Star car ads in this year’s Super Bowl. Car advertising often falls into two categories – the boastful, with the emphasis firmly on power and aesthetics; and the solemn, with grainy film and ‘inspirational’ voiceovers. Congratulations are due to this year’s car marketers, who bucked the trend en masse with often hilarious ads.

Pick of the crop is our #2 ad, Hyundai’s “First Date”, starring comedian Kevin Hart as an overprotective Dad who gets the last laugh.

(A quick word on celebrity – yes, lots of the top ads feature superstars. But there were so many famous faces in the ads this year that it’s inevitable some of them did well. There were plenty of 3-Star, 2-Star and even 1-Star ads which used celebrities too: it’s not a guarantee of a feelgood commercial.)

MYTH #3: PEOPLE DON’T WANT SENTIMENTAL ADS ANY MORE

OK, this year saw a lot fewer tearful moms, rugged Dads, and moving parent/child reunions. And candid-camera style stuntvertising – the dominant theme of 2015’s ads in general, as our FeelMore50 chart showed – was almost invisible. Just as we warned in our FeelMore50 commentary, times are always changing. But get the execution right and sentimentality can still carry a big emotional kick. Our #9 ad, Audi’s “Commander” spot, with a David Bowie soundtrack and a cross-generational story of an ageing astronaut, did get it right.

MYTH #4: EMOTIONAL ADVERTISING IS OPPOSED TO STRONG BRANDING

Emotional advertising is more effective than rational messages – the more time your ad spends driving home its message in a rational, System2 way, the less likely it will be to make people feel more. Because a lot of the “message” sections of ads are heavily branded – and make consumers glaze over – people can worry that emotional ads and branding are somehow opposed.

Not so! Brand growth is all about Fame, Feeling and Fluency, and it’s in the “Fluency” part of the equation that branding can really work for an ad. Fluency is all about ease of recognition and processing – establishing unique assets for a brand that make it simply easier to choose.

But it works the other way too – when you build those unique assets, you can use them in advertising to reinforce positive brand associations in a completely System1 way. Rather than explain the theory, though, let Heinz show you how it’s done, with “Wiener Stampede”, our #4 ad.

This is a funny, cute, vaguely surreal ad. But it’s also an ad that is using Heinz’ unique assets – its instantly familiar condiment bottle shapes – in brilliant style. The result is an ad in which the brand and product are absolutely the hero – without a rational message in sight.

MYTH #5: HUMOUR AND EMOTION DON’T MIX

Humour won the day at Super Bowl 50. But don’t make the mistake of confusing that with a lack of emotion. In the papers this morning, one marketing professor was quoted as saying “Brands played it safe, using a lot of levity and humour. We didn’t see too many emotional or too many deep ads.”

We’ve made this point before, but it really can’t be made enough. This attitude is completely wrong. Because levity and humour – things that make people smile – are emotional. In fact, ultimately they are the same kind as “emotional” advertising as ‘deep’ ads – they want to make people happy. The only differences are the type of happiness ads are going for – amusement, awe, uplift, pride, schadenfreude, or one of many others. And the extent to which ads are happy to make people sad before resolving into happiness.

The style of emotional advertising changes with the times – sometimes it’s heart-warming, sometimes it’s rib-tickling. But the aim is always the same: make people feel good.

And on that note, here’s one final ad that made people feel great – Honda’s bizarre mix of classic rock… and sheep.

For the rest of the Top 10, and plenty more great emotional ads, check out the Super Bowl page on our FeelMore50 site.

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