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Don’t Call It a Comeback: Super Bowl LIV Advertising Recap

February 12, 2020

Last Sunday, the ceremonial dumping of the Gatorade and a blizzard of confetti (complete with snow angels) marked the official close of Super Bowl LIV. Patrick Mahomes led the Kansas City Chiefs to a stunning comeback in the last quarter, defeating the San Francisco 49ers with a final score of 31-20. But the celebrations don’t end there; the Super Bowl also saw it’s first linear viewership boost in five years, with a combined viewing audience of 102 million.

Great, but what does that mean for the ads?

Following several years of decline, ad memorability (percent of an ad’s viewers able to recall its content the next day) improved during Super Bowl 2020. This increase might be due in part to a more exciting game relative to other years, along with the improved creative quality of the ads and a rebound of interest in watching the ads themselves.

This year’s Big Game featured a particularly memorable batch of ads, which had us humming “Can’t Touch This,” following Bill Murray and his furry friend, Tweeting #BabyNut, and trying out our best Boston accents (also, we’re still not over Loretta).

But how did these ads actually perform?

We thought you’d never ask. Using our unique Super Bowl metrics, we can track and measure Super Bowl advertising to help brands quantify their return on investment at the program, brand, and ad-level using our specialized Super Bowl 360 Report. We go beyond just measuring creative quality and deliver a broader understanding of how advertising performance drives business impact.

While we already know the top 10 performing Super Bowl ads based on brand memorability, let’s dive deeper into what drove these ads to success (or failure).

Humor Continues to Lead the Pack

In recent years, humor has been the most frequently used style in Super Bowl advertisements, and this year is no different. Compared to previous years, 2020 lent itself to the highest percentage of ads that use humor as their primary approach. Light-hearted humor in ads such as Jeep’s Groundhog Day, Tide’s Super Bowl Now, Laundry Later series, and Amazon’s Before Alexa helped viewers both remember and connect with them, driving strong overall TV results. In fact, of the top 10 performing Super Bowl ads that we ranked, nine leveraged humor to stand out.

Bring in the Celebs

Relative to past Super Bowls, celebrity presence in ads were much more prevalent this year. Of the 53 Super Bowl ads tracked, 74% featured a celebrity in some way, compared to only 47% in 2019 and 50% in 2018. However, merely featuring a celebrity in an ad does not guarantee success.

Celebrities who played a central role in an ad’s story development drove the strongest results, as opposed to simply being shown on-screen. For example, Sam Elliott and Lil Nas X starred in Doritos’ The Cool Ranch ad and faced off in a humorous dance battle set to Lil Nas X’s popular “Old Town Road.” The two celebrities played integral roles in the storyline of the ad and helped the ad appeal to a wide array of viewers.

On the other hand, LeBron James appeared in Hummer’s Quiet Revolution ad, but it was unclear how his actions—among other scenes in the ad—related to Hummer and its new All-Electric vehicle. As a result, this ad struggled to break through to audiences.

New Product Releases On the Rise

In 2020, more brands opted to use their commercial to showcase a new product or innovation than last year. Of the 53 Super Bowl ads that we tracked, 38% featured a new product or benefit (compared to 29% in 2019). When executed well, the Super Bowl can be a productive platform to introduce a new product innovation.

Hyundai’s Smaht Pahk spot made their new self-parking car part of the humor and relatable story in the ad. Not only that, but the star power of John Krasinski, Rachel Dratch and Chris Evans drove strong appeal among viewers who also found the ad clever and original. Introducing innovation in such an entertaining way also augmented the campaign’s ability to tell viewers something new and important about the brand.

To make the most of the Super Bowl stage for a new product or benefit, make sure the new ad is easy to remember, can appeal to a broad audience, and integrates the new product/innovation into the story.

Bonus: A Nod to Creative Continuity

As we’ve observed in the past, creative continuity is a great strategy to achieve high breakthrough and ad memorability in the Super Bowl. This year, Tide was the only advertiser to host a series of ads and utilize creative continuity with their #LaundryLater campaign. Their ads, which featured Charlie Day toting a laundry basket containing Tide Power Pods, branded 36% better than the average Super Bowl ad. Their clever ads that featured witty humor and pop-culture references earned them four of the top 10 spots on our ranker.

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