10 Things We Learned From Super Bowl LIV

Advertising’s biggest night is over for another year. We tested every national ad – and Microsoft produced the winner with its tribute to 49ers coach Katie Sowers.

You can look at our scoreboard here – but what did we ad-watchers and analysts learn about effectiveness and trends from Super Bowl LIV?


1. Jeep Taps the Power of Nostalgia

Jeep’s Groundhog Day revival with Bill Murray was a 5-Star success and our #2 ad overall, showing how powerful cultural references and nostalgia can be. (Comcast got similar results for its Christmas ET comeback). The key, though, is to find a reference with as wide an appeal as possible – Pringles’ Rick And Morty animated ad only managed 2-Stars.


2. Doritos Should Probably Keep Its Logo

Last year Doritos made headlines for a stunt where it dropped its branding from a TV ad, which tested not terribly well by the snack brand’s lofty standards. It’s Super Bowl ad was a different story – the cowboy dance-off starring Lil Nas X and Sam Elliott didn’t just get a 5-Star result, it also got the night’s highest Spike score, predicting short-term impact. The combination of the familiar logo and pack and the entertaining emotion in the ad was unstoppable. People build these things for a reason – who knew?


3. Cheetos Do Celebrity Right

It was a Super Bowl of celebrities – some ads were bursting at the seams with cameos and famous faces. But the higher-scoring ones picked one or at most two celebrities and used them well, building running jokes and entertaining ads around what the stars got famous for in the first place. One great example is Cheeto’s use of MC Hammer, taking his most famous hit (“U Can’t Touch This”) and turning it into a series of sketches about what you can’t touch when you have Cheeto fingers.


4. Google Discover the Power (and Peril) of Sadness

One of the most acclaimed ads of the night was Google’s very moving portrait of a widower trying to remember his wife Loretta by means of Google Home’s voice assistant and memory. It was a powerful twist on the emerging “screenshot ad” format and had a strong short-term Spike score, reflecting its emotional intensity. But its Star rating was an underwhelming 2-Stars – why? The problem for Google is that while sadness is a really potent emotion, you need to resolve it to feel the benefit of using it, and Google’s touching ad didn’t truly manage that.


5. Tide Can’t Make Lightning Strike Twice

Tide scored a coup in 2018 with its instant classic “It’s A Tide Ad”. No surprise that they went back to a similar well for this year’s “Later”, a story of a guy fretting over when he can wash his stained shirt. But audiences weren’t so responsive – all the Tide ads struggled to top 2-Stars. It’s a warning to brands looking to use stunt ads – yes, they can work, but they are very hard to follow up.


6. Planters Go Nuts With Their Fluent Device

Planters got some pre-game buzz for killing off their Mr Peanut mascot in a trailer – a brave move, one which brought plenty of attention to their long-running Fluent Device, but also raised the question – what do they do in the actual game? Bring in his heir, Baby Nut, in a 3-Star ad, was the answer. The eyebrow-raising hashtag suggests that social performance is still the main aim for Planters here. Time will tell whether this is the birth of a new Fluent Device, or trashing the old one for only short-term impact.


7. Facebook Load Up On Stars

What’s better than one celebrity in an ad? Loads of them! Right? Well…not always. As Facebook (and other brands like Walmart) found out this year, packing your ad with vignettes from famous faces and jumping from idea to idea is entertaining but can end up lowering its emotional impact compared to a more focused approach. Facebook had some big names for its spot – Chris Rock and Sly Stallone – but the lead-up to the reveal switched rapidly from scene to scene, and the whole thing landed at 3-Stars – a good performance, but several single-celebrity ads ended up scoring higher.


8. Budweiser: Nice Trailer, Shame About the Commercial

Budweiser had the best pre-game trailer, a 5-Star effort starring a returning veteran reunited with his family. Not the most original set-up, but almost always effective. But “Typical American”, the ad it promoted, only got 2-Stars. What happened? First of all, not all the miniature stories Bud showed were as strong as the trailer, and they were all truncated for the main feature. But worse, Budweiser distracted viewers from these human elements by a didactic voiceover taking a swing at America’s critics, but in such a snarky, sarcastic way it turned viewers off and left a flat ad.


9. Ironically Bad Ads Are Still Bad (Sorry Pop Tarts)

Adland finds new ways to be clever every year – and leaves audiences rolling their eyes. This time some brands tried irony – deliberately tacky or cheesy ads, like Pop-Tarts’ cheap-looking spot and Avocados From Mexico’s fake infomercial. This kind of post-modernist genre-play might delight creatives’ pals, but audiences don’t see a cleverly bad ad… they just see a bad ad. Both spots got 1-Star.


10. Reese’s Brings the Funny

7 out of this year’s Top 10 ads aimed to make us laugh – cementing a revival in humorous ads which has been building since the low point of the mid-10s “Sadvertising” era. Laughter works to build effectiveness, as long as it’s not mean-spirited. This year’s purest comedy ad was Reese’s Take 5, which turned a series of corny phrases (“head in the sand”) literal for some great sight gags. A simple idea, well executed, that made people laugh – and a deserved 4-Star ad. If only every brand got the basics so right…

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