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2015 will be the 11th year for the Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review. Once again, a panel of Kellogg MBA students will evaluate the spots and assess which ones were most effective.

The Kellogg review is unique because the focus is on business results. The panel isn’t concerned about humor or emotion or visual impact. The focus is on a more important question: did the ad build the brand and build the business.

We will post the final results here, along with an analysis of key spots, so check back after the game.

Leading up to the event, Tim Calkins will be posting observations on the Super Bowl on his blog, Building Strong Brands. You can see it and sign up to follow it here:

http://www.strongbrands.wordpress.com

The 2014 Super Bowl was a marketing extravaganza. Never has the world seen such massive hype and discussion about advertising; during the two weeks leading up to the game, companies released dozens of teaser spots and social media campaigns.

Advertisers clearly invested heavily in this year’s game; it was a remarkable mix of celebrities, famous songs and special effects. But there were more than just gimmicks this year.

The overall tone was generally upbeat and inspirational. We didn’t see a lot of silly jokes and gags. Instead, advertisers focused on positive, inspirational messages in an attempt to resonate with the consumer heart.

Still, the overall quality of the advertising was fairly mixed, proving once again that a big production budget does not guarantee strong branding or effectiveness.

A group of almost sixty Kellogg students watched the Super Bowl in Evanston and evaluated all the spots. Here are the grades and observations from Professors Tim Calkins and Derek Rucker from the 10th annual Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review.

The Best (A)

Microsoft 

Microsoft finished at the top of the Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review with an ad that celebrated the power of technology. The ad was emotional; it showed a former NFL player, now battling with ALS, who communicated with Microsoft software.

The ad was particularly notable because it differentiated Microsoft from Apple in a meaningful way. It suggested that while Apple is a cute brand that is good for music and design, Microsoft technology is serious and important.

VW

In Volkswagen’s spot, a father celebrates his car reaching 100,000 miles and explains to his daughter that German engineers earn their wings when a car passes that milestone.

The ad was creative and funny. More important, it conveyed a benefit: that VW has reliable cars. This is an example of solid advertising that weds creative and brand strategy.

Heinz

Heinz ketchup did well on the Super Bowl with a spot that linked Heinz ketchup with happiness. It was a believable proposition and had very strong branding.

Cheerios

General Mills deserves a lot of credit for risking controversy, at least among some consumers, by airing a spot featuring an inter-racial couple. In 2013 General Mills received quite a lot of negative feedback when it ran an ad with the same couple.

The Cheerios Super Bowl ad was charming. It didn’t say anything specific about the product but the branding was solid and the ad built the imagery of the brand.

Butterfinger

Nestle’s Butterfinger brand bought a Super Bowl spot to launch its new peanut butter cups product. The ad featured a couple, one labeled chocolate and the other peanut butter. Butterfinger gets in between them to spice up the relationship. It isn’t an unexpected idea but the ad was creative and got the point across.

Bud/Bud Light

Budweiser aired two dramatic spots that both worked well. One featured the iconic Clydesdale horses interacting with a puppy. The Bud brand team was clearly trying to repeat its 2013 success with this ad. The other spot was a moving tribute to a war veteran. Horses and veterans are safe and popular creative ideas.

The Bud Light creative was daring. Gone were the silly jokes. Instead, we had a remarkable story about a fellow taken on a crazy adventure, dramatizing the line “for whatever happens next.” The new campaign worked well with the Kellogg panel, getting attention with strong branding. The extended version posted above is astonishing.

The Good (B)

Chobani

In the much-anticipated yogurt bowl, Chobani bested Oikos with a spot that featured a large and rather enraged bear. The ad certainly attracted attention and communicated the brand’s positioning: all-natural.

Doritos

Doritos aired two spots, both from the Crash the Super Bowl promotion. The first spot, time machine, didn’t work as well as the second. Both spots had solid branding. We wonder if the Doritos Super Bowl formula is starting to lose a little of its impact.

Hyundai

Hyundai aired two spots. The better spot communicated its auto-braking capability; it featured a father saving the day. Hyundai’s other ad featured a clever rhyming scheme. It was catchy but didn’t have a significant message.

Chrysler and Jeep

For the past three years, Chrysler has used a simple strategy for the Super Bowl:  surprise people with big, dramatic spots. In 2011, the ad was a gritty portrait of Detroit. The following year Chrysler used Clint Eastwood. Last year, the company aired an emotional ad for Jeep and another for Dodge Ram.

Chrysler stuck with the formula this year, running a dramatic spot for Chrysler about the value of American manufacturing. The ad featured Bob Dylan. The ad again broke through the clutter and scored well with the Kellogg panel.

Perhaps the one questionable call was that Chrysler went with the line “Let Germany brew your beer, let Switzerland make your watch.” It seems to weaken the overall argument that it is important to support domestic production.

Chrysler also aired a powerful ad for Jeep. It was a shift from the 2013 execution; it was less about the brand’s military heritage and more about adventure.

RadioShack

RadioShack appealed to 80’s nostalgia and featured a number of classic characters. The basic message: we use to be outdated and now we aren’t. The spot got attention and had strong branding. The only issue was it didn’t give people a reason to visit the new RadioShack.

Wonderful Pistachios

Mixing it up, Wonderful Pistachios opted to cut their advertisement into two parts. In the first part, Stephen Colbert acted as if the product would sell itself. Then, separated by only one short spot, he returned to attempt to sell the brand in a more emphatic fashion. The split spot was interesting and caught the attention of our panel.

M&Ms

M&Ms has become a core Super Bowl advertiser and this year the brand ran another entertaining spot. The ad was distinctive and featured an iconic M&M character being kidnapped and completely unaware of his rather dire predicament.

Kia

Getting people to think of Kia as a luxury car is a challenge. The brand’s Super Bowl spot put forth a reasonable argument encouraging people to completely rethink luxury.

The creative broke through the clutter but the branding was relatively weak.

The Average (C)

Coca-Cola

Coke ran two spots. The first scored well with the Kellogg panel; it celebrated the diversity of America. The second spot showed a small football player running for a touchdown and didn’t work as well; it just wasn’t clear where the little fellow was going or why.

Sonos

The wireless music system Sonos ran a Super Bowl spot that was quite dramatic but the creative idea overwhelmed the message.

Chevy

Chevy takes the prize for the saddest Super Bowl ad with a wistful ad about a rural couple dealing with a cancer diagnosis. The message was the Chevy supports World Cancer Day. The brand ran another spot featuring a cowboy transporting a bull.

Chevy gets credit for consistency; the brand seems to be settling on rural America as a base. This is a big step forward; Chevy has to sort out what the brand really stands for. Picking a target is a good first step.

Beats Music

Ellen DeGerenes can dance. Beats made a smart move getting her to endorse its new music service. The issue: the spot didn’t really set up the frame of reference. What is this product, again?

Toyota

Toyota ran a spot featuring the muppets. The message was that the new Highlander has lots of space. The spot was fine; it didn’t stand out but communicated a message.

Honda

Honda focused on safety with its ad featuring Bruce Willis. In the ad, Bruce asked people to hug each other and noted that Honda makes safe cars.

This isn’t a terrible spot but it is tough to differentiate a car brand on safety.

Bank of America

It is a hard to miss with U2 on the Super Bowl. Bank of America invested a ton of money to sponsor U2 and give away one of the band’s songs.

The problem with this sort of marketing is that the sponsor overwhelms the brand; it doesn’t say much about the Bank of America, aside from the fact that the company has enough money to sponsor U2.

Jaguar

Jaguar was a new Super Bowl advertiser this year. The brand ran a big spot featuring British villains and the line “It is good to be bad.” The spot attracted attention but could have had stronger linkage to the car.

T-Mobile

You have to give T-Mobile credit for having a focused message. The pitch: you can get rid of your contract by switching to T-Mobile. Tim Tebow was an interesting creative choice; he attracted attention but might have overwhelmed the brand.

Dannon Oikos

Two years ago Dannon ran a terrific Super Bowl ad for Oikos featuring John Stamos. This year it came back for an encore.

The problem was the spot tried to both play into the old execution from two years ago and incorporate Stamos’ old pals from Full House. It ended up being a compromise that didn’t work too well.

Turbo Tax

The Turbo Tax spot described what it is like to watch the Super Bowl when your team is not in it, a clever concept. The problem is the Turbo Tax brand didn’t connect to the concept. This is a classic linkage problem.

American Family Insurance

We can’t remember much about this spot. That is not a great sign.

H&M

David Beckham starred in H&M’s spot. The ad was a great piece for Beckham but didn’t say much about H&M’s clothing.

The Bottom (D)

Sprint

Sprint’s ad featuring the family plan didn’t really break through the Super Bowl clutter.

GoDaddy

GoDaddy tried something new this year: run advertising that is less polarizing. The brand didn’t feature attractive and scantily clad ladies. Instead the message was about starting a new business.

By becoming less offensive, GoDaddy also became less memorable and distinctive.

They will be an interesting brand to watch if they come back next year. Do they stick with this new approach or go back to polarizing creative?

Squarespace

There is a difference between having an insight and developing great creative.

The folks at Squarespace identified an important insight: people think the web is a scary place. The problem is that they then didn’t connect the issue to the brand. It was not clear why people should trust Squarespace to make the web safer.

WeatherTech

You have to give WeatherTech credit for having a benefit; the brand’s Super Bowl spot clearly celebrated made in America. The problem: it didn’t establish the frame of reference. It wasn’t clear precisely what WeatherTech actually makes.

Maserati

Maserati started with an epic build that was so powerful it seemed like a movie trailer.

The young child’s narration was particularly arresting. The problem was that the ultimate reveal did not feel satisfying.

SodaStream

SodaStream’s partnership with Scarlett Johansson fell flat with the Kellogg panel. The fact that the ad stated that the spot should go viral did not help— people want to determine what is viral, not be told.

Intuit QuickBooks

It is hard enough to communicate one brand. One brand sponsoring an ad from another brand is more confusing. In this spot, Intuit tried to run an ad for a small company called Goldieblocks that was sponsored by QuickBooks. It was a neat concept but the execution left much to be desired.

Geico

When you come to the Super Bowl the creative needs to be fresh and engaging. This spot was rather plain; it just didn’t stand out.

Axe

Unilever’s Axe brand shifted strategy for the Super Bowl. Instead of talking about sex appeal, the brand embraced the more inspirational message of “make love, not war.”

The spot did not resonate with the Kellogg panel, suffering from weak linkage between the creative idea and the product.

Subway

Apparently Subway purchased a Super Bowl spot at the very last-minute. The creative was consistent with this; it just didn’t have the distinctiveness needed to stand out.

CarMax

The CarMax spot featured people slow clapping a fellow after he purchases a car at CarMax. The problem is that it isn’t clear why they are clapping. It also isn’t clear if a slow clap is a positive or a negative; some members of the Kellogg panel through it felt like a sarcastic gesture.

Audi

Audi scored at the bottom of the Kellogg rankings this year.

The brand’s Super Bowl spot featured rather disturbing dogs. The point was that compromise is bad and Audi doesn’t compromise. We suspect most people will just remember the disturbing dogs. This is a classic amplification problem.

In just a few days, advertisers will spend millions of dollars running Super Bowl commercials. If history is any guide, most of these spots will feature funny jokes and impressive special effects.

Few of these ads, however, will make an emotional appeal. They will try to amuse and dazzle more than touch the heart.

This is a missed opportunity. At Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, we’ve been evaluating Super Bowl ads for 10 years. Our focus is somewhat unique; we aren’t interested in entertainment value, we are interested in business impact. Our student panel studies each spot and evaluates its power to build the business and to build the brand.

While emotional spots are not common, they are some of the most effective we have seen in the last decade.

Google: In 2010, Google won the Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review with a spot called “Parisian Love.” While the spot showed Google’s functional side, the story was a classic love story. Boy travels to Paris, boy meets girl, they date, they marry and start a family. Google helps with all of it.

Dove: Unilever ran an astonishing commercial for Dove in 2006 that won the Kellogg review that year. The commercial dealt with the rather serious topic of self-image among girls. This is not traditionally a Super Bowl ad theme. But Dove’s spot broke through that year and stood out. It conveyed an import message in an emotional way and built the brand.

Jeep: Last year Jeep ran a remarkable commercial saluting the troops fighting overseas. The ad was serious and emotional. It noted, “There will be a seat left open, a light left on, a favorite dinner waiting, a warm bed made…because in your home, in our hearts, you’ve been missed. You’ve been needed, you’ve been cried for, prayed for. You are the reason we push on.” Jeep touched deep emotions about loss and longing. And the spot worked to build the brand; it made people feel proud of Jeep and its values.

Budweiser: Perhaps more than any other Super Bowl advertiser, Budweiser knows the power of emotion. Over the years the brand has run a series of emotional spots featuring the iconic Clydesdales. The 2013 spot, for example, highlighted the emotional bond between a horse and its trainer. It was one of the top spots of the year.

It isn’t easy to create an emotional spot for the Super Bowl. The environment is fun and energetic and people aren’t primed for serious themes. And, in many ways, the safe approach that many brands will take is to air the funny and lively commercials.

But, if we are lucky, one or two brands will tap into our emotions. And if they do it well they will emerge as some of the most effective spots.

Soda Stream’s PR Win

Marketers advertising on the Super Bowl face two challenges. The main issue is breaking through the clutter during the game. The other challenge is getting PR attention in the days leading up to the event.

The PR battle isn’t easy. There are only so many news outlets and business writers. A newspaper has only one front page each day and can only fit a certain number of stories. There are dozens of Super Bowl advertisers fighting for coverage.

Soda Stream has deftly managed its PR this year and is getting enormous attention as a result. For a small advertiser, Soda Stream is getting disproportionate amount of coverage.

Soda Stream got off to a strong start when it announced in early January that it had signed Scarlett Johansson to be its spokesperson. This move provided a big boost for the brand. Johansson did a number of interviews discussing Soda Stream. Here is an example of the coverage:

www.nytimes.com/2014/01/11/business/media/sodastream-to-bring-some-heat-to-super-bowl-ad-with-scarlett-johansson.html?_r=0

 

Last weekend, Soda Stream was back in the news when it revealed that Fox had rejected its Super Bowl ad because it mentioned Coke and Pepsi by name. Daniel Birnbaum, CEO, announced the news and said he was shocked by the decision. He sputtered, “This is the kind of stuff that happens in China. I’m disappointed as an American.” You can read more about it here:

www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/01/24/sodastream-banned-super-bowl-ad-coke-pepsi-scarlett-johannson/4838575/

 

Soda Stream wasn’t surprised about the Fox rejection; it was just creating news.

The brand is again in the news today defending its factory in the West Bank. This is less favorable coverage but news nonetheless.  Scarlett put out a statement about it:

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/scarlett-johansson-addresses-criticism-sodastream-674051

 

The overall impact is quite impressive. Soda Stream is everywhere. As of today, its rejected commercial has 1,587,464 views. You can contribute to the totals by watching the spot here:

 

This is a great example of how a brand can get media attention by creating and managing the flow of news.

The only problem is that I think the basic strategy is off; saving the world is a nice concept but it won’t drive adoption of the Soda Stream. Product quality and image matter more.

I start this post with a title that is a teaser. Of course it matters. As one of the few things in life that rivals my passion for advertising, I know it matters. It matters to fan engagement and excitement. It matters to sponsors. It matters to a lot of people. This year it is a battle of one of the NFL’s most gifted young quarterbacks, Russell Wilson, and a beloved season veteran, Peyton Manning– who just had the best season ever from a statistical perspective.

But, the question has a deeper meaning to it beyond the surface. Does who is playing matter for advertisers? It can, but I am not thinking in terms of market sizes or segments. A lot of people are going to be watching the Super Bowl by default. The question is whether any brand will take advantage of the climate around the game to use their advertising in clever and engaging ways.

One of the best examples of this in recent years occurred last year when Tide ran a spot entitled “Miracle Stain.” The premise of the spot was simple: guy spills on his 49ers jersey a stain that takes the form of Joe Montana. The stain is marveled at by onlookers and leads people to worship the jersey as a hyperbole of fandom begins. The story ends by the wife washing the stain away. It turns out she wasn’t just doing laundry; she was a Raven’s fan. My description does not do the spot justice, so it is worth seeing it here:

The advertisement won Kellogg’s Super Bowl Advertising Review outright for good reason. The spot was on brand; Tide is all about stains and Tide’s equity as the brand leader to effectively eliminate them. But, the spot did more than tell an engaging story, it was one of the few spots to take advantage of the fact that the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Raven’s were the actual teams playing in the Super Bowl. This gave the advertisement a layer of connectedness we didn’t see in other spots that helped it rise above the rest.

So, the answer to the question of this post is, yes, it matters. But, I find this builds another important question: Will anyone else figure out a creative way to be extremely relevant to the consumer this year?

The Hype Begins

Tomorrow the build-up to the 2014 Super Bowl begins in earnest.

It used to be that Super Bowl advertising was just that: Super Bowl advertising. Companies would buy some time, develop a spot and hope it generated some discussion and buzz the following day. The more sophisticated advertisers would add a bit of print into the mix, perhaps running an ad in the USA Today the following morning.

Things have changed.

The Super Bowl is now a multi-media marketing spectacle. Companies advertising on the game will work very hard to get attention and discussion in the two weeks leading up to kick-off. They will use teaser television spots, social media campaigns, promotions and PR efforts.

Last week I spoke with a notable Super Bowl advertiser who reported that he now thinks of the Super Bowl as a month-long event.

A few advertisers have already gotten started. Jaguar and Axe rolled out campaigns last week. Soda Stream announced its spokesperson. And it was impossible to miss the teaser spots from Bud Light on yesterday’s playoff games.

Here is one of Bud Light’s many teaser spots:

This is the teaser spot from Butterfinger peanut butter cups:

I suspect Super Bowl advertisers will be fairly quiet today; it seems wrong to launch a splashy new advertising campaign on Martin Luther King Day.

Tomorrow, however, the frenzy will set in.

If you want to see the state of marketing today, follow a few of the Super Bowl advertisers and watch what they do. Look at how they use Facebook, Twitter, promotions, a website and PR.

The stakes are very high and every Super Bowl advertiser wants to win the next two weeks.

Super Bowl Advertising has an inherent competitive aspect to it. Many brands do not want to be known simply for having a Super Bowl spot, they want to be know for having THE Super Bowl spot. However, beyond winning it all; as someone who loves advertising, it becomes even more interesting when you have competitive brands in the set. This year we get to see one such matchup with the announced appearance of both Oikos and Chobani.

Both brands participate in the Greek yogurt category, which has taken on a lot of interest by consumers. Chobani entered as a massive leader in the category, but Dannon entered and grew their Oikos brand at an impressive rate. From such a perspective, how each brand does in the Super Bowl could have important financial implications.

Chobani is a Super Bowl rookie this year, so we will be treated with their debut performance on the big stage. Oikos, is not a stranger to the Super Bowl, they appeared in the 2012 Super Bowl with a spot featuring John Stamos.

In that initial outing the Oikos spot made its point loud and clear. And, that spot led Dannon to become one of only four brands to be awarded an A that year by our Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review Panel. Oikos sat out in 2013, but given their 2012 performance, I’m excited to see what they are bringing this year!

Competition is not necessarily bad for the brands. In fact, in the Super Bowl environment a competitive match-up may actually inspire greater consumer attention. As humans we have a natural tendency to engage in comparisons and to rank-order people. Brands are no exceptions. This means both brands may get a bit more buzz and discussion simply because they are both present—this blog post represents one such demonstration. The question here will be whether Oikos’ past experience in the Super Bowl is a formula they can repeat or whether the rookie Chobani will dazzle and delight us with a new angle. It certainly is a match-up I’m looking forward to, and I encourage you to add it to your own Super Bowl program!

 

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