In recent years, a pillar of Super Bowl advertising has been the sentimental ad. Usually – but not always – built around telling a moving story, sentimental ads work by tapping different types of happiness – awe, joy and particularly uplifting emotion. They also often toy with negative emotions, and if they resolve those feelings of sadness into happiness, such ads can be highly emotionally dynamic (which tends to mean better sharing and interaction rates).
But 2017 is the year the ‘sadvertising’ tide went out.
So far only one inspirational ad has scored 5 stars – Honda’s collection of yearbook photos of the famous, telling us to follow our dreams. Close behind it was Coca-Cola, whose ad, placed right after the live national anthem performance, celebrated the diversity of America and its mix of cultures and languages. This Coke ad has aired before – causing controversy and scoring poorly – but familiarity has bred contentment (and perhaps the placement was better). This year the formula clicked and Coke’s “Together Is Beautiful” walked away with a 4-Star score.
Coke hasn’t been alone in pulling emotional levers this year, of course, and several other ads have come close to matching it. One of them is Google’s “Home”, an ad for its household devices tech which riffed on the theme of coming home and netted a 4-Star score. And Pepsi LIFEWTR’s joyous and colourful ad tapped yet another type of happiness – sheer aesthetic pleasure – to get 4 Stars once again. Coke’s second ad – another repeat, celebrating Coke and Food – also pressed aesthetic buttons to get the highest score, 5-Stars.
But not every sentimental ad is a winner. Michelin’s “I Need You” had the ingredients for a tear-jerking commercial but three separate stories in thirty seconds made it a choppy watch and left viewers rather cold: it could only muster 2 Stars.
And those ads which tried to tell powerful emotional stories risked being left high and dry at a Super Bowl which has been far more about chuckling than choking up. In recent years Budweiser has been the king of sentimental Super Bowl storytelling with a string of 5-Star winners for its Clydesdale theme ads. Its 2017 commercial, “Born The Hard Way”, told the story of founder Thomas Busch’s arrival in America as an immigrant. Dogged by controversy – was it a pointed comment on recent political events? – the ad has ended up scoring just below the 3-Star threshold.
Meanwhile the cute and humorous ads keep racking up 5-Star scores. If you want a single take-away that sums up the turnaround in Super Bowl advertising this year, here it is: Budweiser got 2-Stars. Sexy Mr Clean got 5.