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Insights from the End Zone: Super Bowl LIII Report

As the NFL season advances and the contenders begin to emerge, we can’t help but speculate who will be facing off in Miami for Super Bowl LIV. Despite the office Fantasy leagues and rowdy, table-smashing tailgates, interest in the NFL and Super Bowl has been on the decline in recent years. Coupled with last year’s tepid Super Bowl performance between The Patriots and The Rams, the lack of interest has many advertisers questioning their substantial investment (seriously—we’re talking $5.2 million avg spend for a: 30 spot) in the Big Game.

However, marketers shouldn’t pull the plug on Super Bowl advertising just yet. Between the 100+ million viewers, the high expectations for TV commercials and the above-average ad spend, the Super Bowl is still one of the highest-scoring TV advertising environments out there. Brands should instead look closer at Super Bowl advertising and take a more nuanced approach to their strategy.

But how can marketers access these types of deep-dive findings and ad effectiveness insights?

We’re glad you asked. For over ten years, Phoenix Brand Effect has been tracking and measuring Super Bowl advertising to help quantify the return on investment at the program, brand, and ad-level, using our specialized Super Bowl 360 Report.

To gear up for this year’s Big Game, we’re taking a look back at some of our key findings from last year’s report. Here’s what we found:

Get the Timing Right

Though it might not seem like an important factor, the stage of the game in which you place your ad can have an impact on its performance. Over the past six years, our data indicates that the second quarter has been the best placement for strong ad resonance, though last year’s ad performance levels were relatively consistent throughout the game. There also tends to be a performance drop-off in the fourth quarter, so we recommend targeting the first half of the game (specifically the second quarter) for ad placements.

Creative Continuity is Key

Continuity is a creative strategy that has helped advertisers succeed in the Super Bowl in recent years. Brands like Bud Light, Pringles, and Verizon carried forward elements established in last year’s game, yielding strong performance in 2019. Specifically, Bud Light experienced success in 2019 with their medieval Bud Knight narrative, which they debuted in 2018 and carry through to today. With their synergistic series, each ad had success because it incorporated several drivers of high performance like humor, campaign continuity, and clear storylines with on-screen dialogue. Similarly, M&Ms and Microsoft brought in concepts that were cultivated outside of the game, which yielded high performance. However, merely airing a series of ads will not be enough to achieve high breakthrough–make sure your creative is strong and has the appeal to really capture the audience’s attention.

Laughter Continues to Dominate

Advertisers played it safe in 2019, mostly avoiding risqué humor or social messages that could be misconstrued as political. Light-hearted humor tended to work well, while alternative/weird humor was hit or miss. Alternative/weird humor can be an effective strategy, so long as it’s not too off-putting or unpleasant. In this year’s Super Bowl, ads that used alternative/weird humor generated above-average breakthrough performance as a whole; however, the majority of these ads were hindered by low likeability scores.

Bud Light’s Medieval Barbers is a good example of successfully using the alternative/weird style of humor in an ad without going over the top. The comical scene of archaic barbers giving outlandish haircuts resulted in solid breakthrough scores, while also outperforming the norm on Brand Ad Appeal. Conversely, Mint Mobile’s Chunky Style Milk was tough to swallow for many viewers (sorry, we had to). While the ad posted slightly high breakthrough marks, it ranked last (#51) among Super Bowl ads on Brand Ad Appeal due to its striking visuals. If you’re going to follow the path of weird or alternative humor, go for it, but don’t go too far. Having a memorable ad is good, but if it makes people cringe every time they think of it, then you may have missed the mark.

BONUS: The Top 3 Performing Super Bowl Brands, Ranked

  1. Microsoft
    Returning to the Super Bowl spotlight for the first time since 2015, Microsoft did so in a big way on the strength of its “When everybody plays, we all win” campaign. We All Win was extremely well-liked by 80% of ad/brand-aware viewers who found it to be particularly reassuring while telling them something important. Microsoft came in at #1 with a Blended Media score of 187.
  2. Planters
    The highly-memorable Crunch Time ad embraced the fact that many Super Bowl viewers are there to have a good time, which helped it score as one of the most entertaining ads of the game. Aside from Mr. Peanut, who helped viewers easily tell it was a Planters ad, Crunch Time boosted performance with the use of multiple celebrities, a tactic that continues to succeed in this environment, and earned them the runner-up Blended Media Score of 147.
  3. Pepsi
    While appearing middle of the road in terms of memorability, Pepsi’s More than OK was bolstered by strong branding, a testament to the creative and consistent presence in the Super Bowl environment (along with their sponsorship of the halftime show). From a creative branding perspective, viewers indicated that they could both easily tell it was an ad for Pepsi, and it was a good fit for the brand. Pepsi took the bronze with a Blended Media Score of 146.
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