Story URL:
Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 11:49:34 AM CST

Top Stories

Ashley Gork/MEDILL

Graduate students at the Kellogg School of Management's Superbowl Advertising Review.

Super Bowl ads drop the ball

by Ashley Gork and Lyz Hoffman
Feb 05, 2013


Lyz Hoffman/MEDILL

Graduate student with an ADPLAN jersey to score the best and worst Super Bowl ads.

If you spend $3.8 million to air a 30-second Super Bowl commercial, you better hope it grabs some yardage.

That's what experts at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management advised about Sunday’s Super Bowl ads at the school’s ninth-annual Super Bowl Advertising Review.

In between bites of chips, pretzels and pizza, roughly 50 graduate students huddled to assess the effectiveness of about 50 companies’ ads. In likely contrast to most Super Bowl parties, the viewers chatted during the game but fell silent during the commercials as they scribbled their reactions to them. They graded and ranked the ads using Kellogg’s ADPLAN criteria, which looks at six factors: attention, distinction, positioning, linkage, amplification, and net equity.

The ads did about as well as the 49ers, despite glitzy technology and lots of pop psychology playing through them.

“None of them were all-time great Super Bowl ads,” said Derek Rucker, an associate professor of marketing at Kellogg. “I won’t remember them 10 years from now.”

Tide won applause as the top-ranked commercial with the “miracle stain” ad, which cheered on the Ravens with a message of stain-busting power. But it came right on the heels of the 49ers’s temporary comeback.

M&M’s, Best Buy, Axe, and Wonderful Pistachios scored wins for humor. Jeep’s emotional theme hailing U.S. troops, often associated with the vehicle, was a winning formula.

But even those spots lacked a creative risk, Rucker said. For him and many of the students, that was both all-encompassing and disappointing.

“The Super Bowl is very interesting because you get the largest audience possible,” said Amanda Schroeder, 26, a student in Kellogg’s full-time MBA program. An estimated 108 million viewers watched the game. “You have to think through the psychology of how to appeal to everyone — that can lead to very safe ads,” Schroeder said.

Risk-taking in Super Bowl ads tends to be reflective of U.S. markets. During the peak of the recession, Rucker said, ads were extremely safe and are only slowly getting less so.

“This year in particular was pretty safe,” he said. “We didn’t see enough creative risks.”

While advertisers shied away from pushing the envelope, some engaged the audience with social media. Oreo, for example, made the most of the game’s unexpected blackout by reminding Twitter and Facebook users that they can still “dunk in the dark.” Oreo’s actual commercial ad only earned a C grade, but its spunky — and cheap — social media advertisement was very effective. Rucker said he suspects to see more brands take advantage of social media in the future.

Subway, Lincoln cars and Blackberry stalled in the backfield of Kellogg’s list. Blackberry punted an opportunity away with its ad, which many in attendance found strange and lacking.

The ad focused on the phone's "can't do" responses to imaginary catastrophes.

John Felton, 29 and a student in the school’s full-time MBA program, especially singled out Blackberry for its inability to “break through the clutter.”

“That is one of the biggest misses I’ve seen in recent memory, and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Blackberry,” Felton said. “You have to give the consumer something new and exciting.”