What Makes a Great Super Bowl Ad?

Here are some hard facts about what makes Super Bowls ads different from other TV ads and how to make yours stand out.

By Michael Wolfe

Advertisers have a lot at stake when they invest upwards of $5 million for a single Super Bowl ad.  You’d expect their ad creative to be superb, but on average, many Super Bowl ads underperform compared to every day TV ads.  Here are some hard facts about Super Super Bowl advertising, what makes it different from other TV ads, and how do you make sure yours breaks through and generates the buzz that builds your brand.

The Underlying Metric for Ad Effectiveness

For this exercise, we are going to define ad effectiveness from ad creative scores from ABX (Advertising Benchmark Index).  We’ve selected this company’s metrics because we have proven, through advanced Marketing-Mix Modeling, that their ABX Index has directly been linked to brand performance and retail sales.   This linkage, we believe, makes their ad scoring system more relevant and credible.  The data that we are going to source here covers Super Bowls 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

The ABX Index

The ABX metric or index is based on a general population stratified random probability sampling design with respondents evaluating ads in all media types including TV.  This metric covers five

critical functions and aspects of an ad.  These include (1) the correct awareness or linkage of the ad with the brand name, (2) whether the ad’s core message was understood and clear, (3) whether the ad has a positive impact on brand reputation, (4) whether the ad was deemed to be relevant to the customer, and (5) whether the ad elicited some action or behavior such as website visits, discussions, store visits, purchase intent, etc. (Call to Action).  A sixth element is also measured for ad likeability or dislike, but is not a part of the overall ABX score because evidence does not link this with actual brand performance.  Unfortunately, and all too often, the most important and sometimes sole reason for selecting a particular Super Bowl ad spot is based on subjective likeability.   Evidence shown in this paper indicates that this often leads to the development of many mediocre and poor performing ads.

Overall Super Bowl Ad Performance

Over the last 4 Super Bowls, a total of 290 ads were evaluated, or about 73 per event.  When we see the overall performance by event, the 2015 Super Bowl was found to have the strongest ads, while the 2013 Super Bowl had the weakest.  All of the Super Bowl averages are below the ABX TV norm of 109.

The top scoring individual ads for these Super Bowl events can be seen below.  Of the top 10 ads, all but three are food products or restaurants.  Interestingly, of the traditional heavy spenders, no auto insurance, beer or soft drink ads made the list; and only one auto brand did so.

When we looked at what made these ads stand-out relative to other ads, respondents rated each ad (1) very high on positive brand reputation, (2) strong positive purchase intent, (3) intent to talk about the ad and desire to see it again, and (4) low dislike.  These top ads rated over 2X the normative levels on all of these areas, demonstrating the core benefit brands achieve by making it to the top of this exclusive club.

Super Bowl Ads Differentiators

We are all pretty aware that Super Bowl TV ads tend to be different from the run-of-the-mill ads we see every day.  Certainly, companies find Super Bowl advertising sufficiently attractive and beneficial to warrant large cost premiums.

When we look at the key ingredients of ads, as perceived by the TV audience, certainly some of these benefits stand out.

As shown above, Super Bowl ads stand out because (1) people talk about them and are interested in seeing them again, (2) they have a higher level of “likeability,” and (3) they have a higher incidence of impacting positive brand reputation.  For brands that need to establish credibility and establish themselves with a larger audience, these ads do deliver.  However, evidence has not been conclusive that there is a connection between the likeability of an ad and a brand’s ad effectiveness and business performance.

Next, we contrast how top performing ads differ from bottom or poor performing ads based on the same criteria (we select top and bottom 20 ads).  As you can see below, the overall differences are substantial and significant across-the-board.  Of particular note here are those elements with the largest gaps.  The top performing ads show extreme and positive differences on factors such as positive shift in brand reputation and positive purchase intent.  In addition, the poorest performing ads stand out as being significantly more “disliked” from the top performing ads.

What ingredients are most important in Super Bowl ad effectiveness?

Using logistics regression, we built a model with the purpose of determining the relative importance of key components or features of an ad and its overall ABX creative effectiveness score.  Below, shows the results and relative importance of the drivers of Super Super Bowl.ad effectiveness.

Creating great ad creative is not easy.  It is always a challenge and certainly, there is no fixed formula with respect to creating great Super Bowl TV ads.  However, there are certain fundamentals that simply need to be achieved for any Super Bowl ad to be truly effective and impactful.

  1. Creating awareness and brand linkage. This is found to be the most important factor.   Good ads must cement the brand identity.   This is fundamental and, without it, the ad will not be effective.
  2. Message Clarity. Each effective Super Bowl ad also must generate a message which is clear to the audience and understandable.
  3. Developing a clear and responsive “call-to-action.” This says that the ad must elicit some sort of brand affirmative behavior, whether that leads to a direct purchase or some other positive behavior from store visits, word-of-mouth conversations, visiting the brand website or recommending it to others. All of these are behaviors that affirm the ad’s impact on the audience and end consumer.

In sum, evidence shows that Super Bowl advertising has some specific and unique benefits to advertisers.  Whether these are sufficient to generate a positive ROI, however, is probably only known on a case-by-case basis.   Certainly, those ads which rise to the top of the effectiveness list generate fame and limelight.  To achieve this lofty level or effectiveness, however, requires that each ad generate strong fundamental ratings on brand linkage, message clarity and its ability to generate responses to defined “calls-to-action.”

Likewise, we see some important and interesting differences between top and bottom performing ads on the ABX scale.   In particular, top performing ads have very much higher

levels of positive shifting brand reputation perceptions and also a large rating on positive purchase intent.  For the few brands that can climb to the top of the chain for Super Bowl ad effectiveness, it appears the benefits are substantial and the likelihood of positive ROI from their investment is high.

By contrast, not all Super Bowl ads are strong performers.  In fact, slightly more than 44% of all ads fall below “all advertiser Television norms” by more than 10% and score less than half the normal rate on such critical measures as “positive purchase intent”.  Therefore, the case can certainly be made that many Super Bowl ads fail to achieve positive ROI and can probably be considered wasted spend.

The lesson here is that there are certain fundamentals that Super Bowl ads must deliver.  Achieving them requires fact-based tools and deep insight as to what ingredients go into a good Super Bowl ad.   mjw@global-analytics-partners.com

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2 Responses to “What Makes a Great Super Bowl Ad?”

  1. Raymond Kidd says:

    January 18th, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    I am thinking that you mean logistic regression and “logistics” regression. However, how is logistic regression appropriate? Is the “overall ABX creative effectiveness score” and the “ABX Index” the same thing? If so, it appears to be a continuous variable. If not, it should be defined and at the same time “score” seems to imply something other than a binary outcome. Is there some sort of proportional odds in the context of an ordinal logistic regression that is not explained?

  2. Michael Wolfe says:

    February 17th, 2017 at 10:36 am

    Hi Raymond. Yes, it logistic regression on continuous data and it is not binary. Send email if other questions.

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