Super Bowl Flashback: Our Last Five Winners

We’ve been testing the Super Bowl ads since 2011 – the year of VW’s classic “The Force”. In that time we’ve seen emotional ad styles come and go. Only one thing is (almost) certain about 2019’s winner – it’ll be a 5-Star ad. The fewest 5-Star spots we’ve seen at the Super Bowl is two (in 2015) and we’ve never had a year where the top ad hasn’t also got our top score: something only 1% of TV ads can boast.

Here are the winners from the last five years of System1 Super Bowl testing – and what they tell us about what might happen this Sunday night.

2014: Budweiser – “Puppy Love”

The middle episode in Budweiser’s trilogy of tear-jerking ads starring a rugged man and his rugged horse, this is the commercial which introduced a third element into the mix – an adorable pup. After 2013’s “Brotherhood” topped our 2013 list, Budweiser became the only brand to ‘do the double’ and top System1’s rankings two years in a row.

“Puppy Love” is a classic of emotional storytelling – a clear narrative, shamelessly manipulative and sentimental, and skilfully resolving all its sadness and fear by the end. In recent years this kind of all-out weepie has fallen back a bit as advertisers have turned back to funny or inspirational ads, and Budweiser themselves have moved onto product and heritage claims which have tended not to strike as many emotional chords. But this year the Clydesdale horses, at least, are back, and so is a dog, in an ad built around Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind”. How will it perform? Find out on Sunday night.

2015: McDonalds – “Pay With Lovin’”

Of all the last few winners, McDonalds’ ad feels the most dated in its approach – an example of the mid-00s craze for featuring stunts, experiments and candid camera footage in ads. People like seeing other people being happy, so this food-for-hugs swap deal earned its 5 stars. But we’d be surprised to see any ‘stuntvertising’ big winners on Sunday, and McDonalds itself appear to be staying out of the Super Bowl this year.

2016: Doritos – “Dogs”

Doritos’ open-submission “Crash The Super Bowl” campaign gave us some of the decade’s funniest ads – like “Goat 4 Sale” and “Time Machine” – and also enjoyed a terrific hit-rate for 4- and 5-Star ads. They went out with a bang, with these three hungry hounds on the prowl for snacks. The Doritos ads are masterclasses in how to make tight, funny, 30-second stories with the product firmly at the centre. We’ll see plenty of ads on Sunday which try to capture some of their magic – time will tell if any succeed.

2017: Kia – “Hero’s Journey”

In an era which has given the public more intimate access to celebrities than ever before, it’s no surprise Super Bowl ads have been keen to use them. One successful formula – illustrated here by Kia’s ad starring Melissa McCarthy as an eco-warrior – is to mix a popular star with a bit of schadenfreude, showing them getting into scrapes or even mildly humiliated. With this year’s teasers heavy on celebrities, we might well see another famous face top the Ad Ratings rankings on Sunday.

2018: NBC – “Mikaela Shiffrin”

Last year’s most emotional ads weren’t for brands at all – they were NBC’s series of commercials for its upcoming Winter Olympics coverage. While publications have been keen to dub 2019 the “year of the woman” in Super Bowl ads, the 5-Star performance of this video shows that strong, empowering stories aren’t a new tactic. It’s certain we’ll be seeing more ads this weekend telling inspiring stories like gold medallist skier Mikaela Shiffrin.

Whatever wins, we’ll be on Twitter, LinkedIn and of course our LIVE results page with analysis and stats. Have a great Super Bowl weekend and may the best ad win!

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