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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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)
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 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 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 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.
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 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.
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)
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.
The wireless music system Sonos ran a Super Bowl spot that was quite dramatic but the creative idea overwhelmed the message.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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’s ad featuring the family plan didn’t really break through the Super Bowl clutter.
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?
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.
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 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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.