Why the Super Bowl Ads Missed the Mark

Why the Super Bowl Ads Missed the Mark
by Kirk Wakefield – February 2015

Advertisers for Super Bowl 49, at least I’m pretty sure that’s the number we’re on, collectively set the mark for most depressing ads ever. Sure, Fiat, Doritos, Snickers and Supercell did their best to entertain. These are ads we wouldn’t mind seeing again.

Others, however, must have been reading the same research report that people were tired of having fun at the Super Bowl. What these advertisers didn’t realize is that if people wanted to be preached at on Sunday, they would have gone to church that morning.

Why do people watch the Super Bowl?

People don’t watch the Super Bowl to hear a sermon, or to learn something, or to change the world. All those are good, mind you. But, perhaps as a surprise to Nationwide, people eat upwards of 1.25 billion chicken wings, 11 million pounds of chips and 325 million gallons of beer, principally for the purpose of having fun (see other fun facts here).

Granted, one reason for a slate of fare less geared to fun-loving males, is that the Super Bowl is a great opportunity to reach the largest audience of women (46%) gathered at one time. But, the reason advertisers are willing to shell out $4.5 million per 30 second ad isn’t for the one-time exposure to over 110 million viewers. It’s because, like any other sponsorship, Super Bowl ads offer the opportunity to leverage the ad in activating the brand throughout a broader campaign.

Why did the Super Bowl ads miss?

The three (or four) C’s of communication spell out the reasons.


Leveraging Super Bowl ads depends on eWom (electronic Word-of-mouth), as well as traditional water cooler talk (tWct). [ref] Note: No one uses this acronym. But, feel free to start.[/ref] We like to share information with others that makes us feel loved, to be included, and to distinguish ourselves from others [ref]Ho, Jason Y.C., and Melanie Dempsey (2010), “Viral marketing: Motivations to forward online content,” Journal of Business Research, 63 (Sept-Oct), 1000-1006.[/ref]. Although open to future research, my guess is that only the few truly enlightened men will be motivated to share with others their feelings about being a dad and how that relates to their choices of Dove or Nissan.

Even if you have relatively high ad meter marks (i.e., 6.0+), that doesn’t mean people are talking about it. And, although I personally liked the Dove ads, overall, men liked it (6.06) considerably less than females (6.70). Such male/female liking differentials are even larger (e.g., 7.65 vs. 8.50 for the Bud’s top-rated “Lost Dog“) among many of the top 25 ads as rated by USA Today’s admeter.


If we just take the CPM of ads (~$37), there are plenty of other better targeted programs to reach women that wouldn’t include such incredible amounts of waste (recall: 54% of SB audience is male) and hence require much lower budgets in absolute dollars. Further, the “lean-in” factor for women watching the Super Bowl is questionable; surely, women are interested in watching the game on-screen, but not at the same level of intensity as males not wanting to miss a play.

Congruence & Context

Even if advertisers with somber messages have carefully considered the first two C’s, the two biggest reasons communications of any kind do (not) work have to do with congruence & context. Fundamentally, individuals seek out, process and retain information congruent within the context of the situation. We look for things that fit, because it’s easier to connect in the schema of linkages in our brains. Aside from sports, the Super Bowl is about fun and friends. Our brains are wired to look for entertainment, because that is the context of the situation.

We may use contrast, or surprise, to get people to pay attention. But, we do this at our peril–because surprises can be pleasant or unpleasant. An unpleasant surprise results in disgust or distress. These are usually not good things. In any case, a lack of congruence within the context of the Super Bowl makes it difficult to justify the cost because it becomes more difficult to leverage through ongoing conversations people want to have.

Super Bowl Ads: A Kid’s Point of View

Super Bowl Ads: A Kid’s Point of View
by Deven Nongbri – February 2014

And now a message from our kids: KISB = Keep It Simple Brands

Even though the game itself was a one-sided romp , the marketing sideshow known as the Super Bowl Ads continue to be of interest both before and after the big game. And of course during the game. A well-executed campaign has tactics leading up to the game in addition to real-time marketing elements for the game itself and a little something to amplify the buzz coming out of the game afterwards. Advertising in the Super Bowl (whether your brand is on TV or not) is a huge deal these days.

And so it’s critical that your marketing efforts both reach and engage your intended audiences. Given the fact that 111.5 million viewers watched the game on TV  (and even more were reached online), your message needs to be accessible to those millions and simple to understand to the many.

Albert Einstein once told the faculty at Princeton the same thing: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.1” Same is true in the agency world; if you don’t have a grasp of your client’s product/service, how can you create effective marketing communications?

With that in mind, which Super Bowl advertisers have a simple enough message to get through to the proverbial six year old in all of us? We decided to see for ourselves with my own four year-old son and seven year-old daughter providing the running commentary on the ads during the game.

Which ads won the day for the kids?

Wonderful Pistachios

The overwhelming favorite, for both the four and seven year old was the “Wonderful Pistachios, Part 2” spot. Who’d have thunk fifteen seconds of airtime would have the kids rolling on the ground laughing so much? Fake news man Stephen Colbert was the just the right amount of pushy to get the point across and surprise everyone in the process. I see green pistachio-head costumes in our Halloween future.



Two year-old: “It tooted.” Enough said. And it brought the house down. And now we’ll be dealing with kids trying to get that exact sound from every plastic condiment bottle in the fridge. I wonder how this played out with others?


Doritos (Time Machine)

Of the two Doritos ads shown on TV, this one clearly had the kids engaged. They liked the idea of the kid pulling one over on the adults, but our scientifically-minded four year-old summed it up with, “Too bad time machines don’t work.” They both understood the humor and the product; bad news next time we head to the grocery store with them. I was sure the special effects of the Transformers or Spider-Man trailer would have pulled better, but the three ads above were recalled right away, and with a level of real enthusiasm about retelling each ad, complete with sound effects. It could also be that their top three spots were all food items, things they could relate to and have enjoyed at one time or another (viz., brand relevance). 


What did they think of the kids they saw in ads?

Cheerios – Gracie

Seven year-old: “She needs to just eat those Cheerios before her Daddy gets to them.” Not saying that happens at home. Nope. Never.


Coke – America the Beautiful

Both kids were stopped in their tracks when the first child started singing. They both listened intently as the ad played and the four year-old made a surprisingly thoughtful comment, “It’s nice to hear different people sing the same song.” I’m pretty sure that’s as simple a message as Coke would want to get across.


Did the kids pick up on any real-time marketing efforts?

Thankfully, no. From what I could tell, other than Buffalo Wild Wings informing folks they didn’t have a button to liven up the game , no one brand stood out like Oreos last year . JCPenney did capture the scorn of many with its attempts to be clever and relevant with real-time marketing and esurance cleaned up after the game.

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Any parting thoughts from dad?

The Radio Shack spot was pretty comical  and kicked off a lot of conversation about what 80s characters everyone saw in the commercial. Said the seven year-old, “You actually remember those guys when they were on TV the first time?!” Yeah, kiddo, I do.



Click here to read more from our readers: What do sports executives kids think were the best ads? Would your kids agree? 

Cover photo courtesy of Padu Merloti.

How to turn ad agencies into influencers, allies, and advocates

How to turn ad agencies into influencers, allies, and advocates
by Bill Boyce – January 2013

If sponsorship salespeople want to turn advertising agencies into advocates, we must understand their needs like any other relationship. How do we do that?

First, understand how an ad agency works. Agencies are divided into three basic functions with whom we interact: account management/client servicing, creative, and media planning & buying.

Second,  understand how the media side is structured. Because account managers and planners are concerned with strategy, they are our best contacts within an agency. Following is a diagram of a typical ad agency media department. The planning (left) is responsible for developing strategy. The buying (right) side is responsible for executing the strategy.

Agency Structure
Agency Structure

Third, understand the language. The following are basic media definitions you should know before going into the meeting or call.

Media Terms

Fourth, always call with a specific client in mind. Agencies do not like general sales calls about their client roster.

Finally, ask the right questions. The following are good questions to supplement your standard needs analysis questions.

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“As we plan our annual marketing calendars, we look across the media mix assessing all the tools.
There are more choices now than ever before. Marketing budgets are ruthlessly analyzed to ensure each dollar is working hard toward the brand’s objectives. A sponsorship’s ROI will be compared to all other ways those marketing dollars could be deployed. Playing up the differences vs other media types or programs and tying sales whenever possible to the sponsorship makes it easier for a marketer to sell the program internally.”

Jody Bilney, EVP, Chief Brands Officer, Bloomin' Brands

Jody Bilney, EVP, Chief Brands Officer, Bloomin’ Brands



  1. “What is the fiscal year for this client?” The objective is to determine when proposals are reviewed and budgets set.
  2. “When is the media planning cycle?” During what months is the media team planning for the fiscal year?
  3. “Does your client include sports in their media plans?” Drill down: Do they plan for sports generally or pick teams? What level of detail does the client provide?
  4. “What is the role of sports sponsorships in the client’s media plan?” When they add sports (sponsorships) to a plan, what do they believe will be the benefit for the client?
  5. “What current sports sponsorships do you utilize?” Which sponsorships are working? What do they like? Not like?
  6. “What are your evaluation criteria?” What is important to you when reviewing a proposal?

If you find yourself talking to someone on the buying (right) side of the diagram, don’t conclude all is lost. Try asking:

  1. “Is sports inventory or sports sponsorship inventory specified in the client’s media plan?” If not, you will need a longer conversation with the media planners. If the answer is yes, then proceed to the next question.
  2. “For the sports spend, what is the target audience for this particular buy?”
  3. “What is the CPM/CPP that they are planning to buy against?”
  4. “Will you consider us for inclusion on the media buy?” Don’t be afraid to be direct: “Are we on the plan?” Ask a few additional questions to confirm intent. If not, ask the next question.
  5. “Why are we not included in the media plan?” This is the opportunity learn and overcome objections.
  6. Close: “We would like for our inventory to be considered for upcoming media buys. What do you suggest as next steps so we can help each other?”

Develop a proposal and pitch as usual. Treat the account manager as your partner to create a customized solution. With knowledge of agencies, their language, personnel, and relevant questions, you can confidently turn agencies into influencers, allies, and advocates. Go for it!