A remarkable Super Bowl! The game itself was spectacular, Lady Gaga rocked the half-time show and advertisers aired an impressive collection of spots.
Two overall themes emerged this year. Many advertisers stuck to light, product-focused messages. This was a safe approach; it is always good to talk about the product. Given that this is a polarizing time for many, sticking to the product is one way to reduce the risk of offending the audience.
Other advertisers leveraged a theme of inclusion, clearly responding to the polarized dynamic that is so prevalent in the news, discussions and social media in the United States. However, most did so without taking firm positions or aligning themselves politically.
Once again this year, a panel of MBA students gathered at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management to review all of the Super Bowl ads. The group evaluated the ads for effectiveness—not just entertainment—thinking about this important question: is this a spot that will likely build the brand and the business?
What follows are the top and bottom ads from the 2017 Super Bowl, as ranked by the Kellogg panel.
Bai aired a very effective spot. Branding was strong, with Christopher Walken delivering the catchy Bai Bai Bai line on a sofa next to Justin Timberlake. The ad also said something notable about the product.
Some of the most effective Super Bowl spots are the simplest, like this one from Skittles. The ad breaks through with a simple creative idea. Branding is strong, with very strong linkage.
This was perhaps the most timely ad, running just before half-time and celebrating the upcoming bathroom break. The branding and benefit were both very strong. The ad built on an insight in a delicate fashion.
Google’s ad embraced the idea of inclusion and paired it with product demonstrations. The ad showed the device at work: “Google, turn on the lights” and “Google, order some food.” The result was an ad with strong branding and a strong benefit.
One can debate whether to call this ad an official Super Bowl spot, since it ran just before the kick-off. However, we had our panel rate it, and it certainly had the product values of a Super Bowl spot.
The first half of the ad identified classic moments of disappointment and frustration. This was both entertaining and attention-getting. The second half explained how Ford was developing new technology to address the frustrations.
Ultimately the spot worked well and one can see it potential to enhance perceptions of the Ford brand.
The Kellogg panel really liked the Audi spot. The ad broke through the clutter with its message about gender equality.
While we like the theme and message of the spot, we had a concern about the strength of the branding. From a strategic approach, we wonder if embracing positive imagery is the best approach for a brand that is part of the VW family.
Four spots! This was a huge year for T Mobile. It is hard to think of another brand that ran so many ads in one game.
T Mobile was highly effective, airing spots that were distinctive and well-branded. Small brands can attack big brands to highlight differentiation. T Mobile shows how to do it.
A simple point of difference can lead to good advertising. Wendy’s Super Bowl spot focused on a straightforward message: at Wendy’s, the meat is never frozen. We guess this means it tastes better. Everyone else is “cold as ice.”
A trio of spots from Amazon effectively highlighted the functional benefits of the Echo.
Sofi wasn’t planning to run a Super Bowl ad this year, but the brand asked Fox if it could buy an over-time spot for a modest amount of money. Apparently this was the first time someone had asked for such a thing.
The bet seems to have paid off as Sofi aired an effective spot as the game went into overtime.
This was a funny, clever spot but linkage could have been stronger.
Turbo Tax gets the prize for most engaging teaser campaign. The week before the Super Bowl, the brand aired a spot about Humpty falling off a wall. It was a reasonable spot on its own, but it also set up the Super Bowl ad where Humpty uses Turbo Tax to figure out if his medical expenses were deductible. An effective effort.
Kia excelled at attracting attention, featuring Melissa McCarthy as an eco-warrior. The spot pays off by noting that Kia has the most fuel-efficient SUVs. Late branding like this is always a risk, but our panel thought, and we agree, that the ad works well.
We liked the Busch ad best; it was simple and clear.
Bud Light, featuring a ghostly Spuds McKenzie, tried to embrace the idea of friendship but we found it to lack some of the charm of earlier Bud Light ads.
Budweiser got the most attention for its story about the brand’s immigrant roots. The ad generated some controversy online. We wonder about the branding, and whether the story will really get people drinking more Bud.
AB InBev supported three different brands. All three efforts received a grade of B.
In the great detergent battle, Tide takes the edge. The brand, apparently concerned about Persil—a challenger in detergent—decided to run two spots. They ran one early in the game and one late.
These spots focused on the trauma of stains and the power of Tide—a category message from the category leader.
Haircare brand It’s a 10 expressed concern about the prospect of four years of bad hair with a call for everyone else to dial things up.
This was a timely ad, but it lacked a commanding benefit. We get the joke, but why does it make us want to use It’s a 10?
Honda’s yearbook spot was creatively unique. We wished we had heard more about the car.
The hidden compartment joke is a good one. Bud Light used it very effectively several years back on the Super Bowl with the Miracle Fridge spot.
King’s Hawaiian picked up on the joke this year with a solid ad.
This creatively big spot certainly attracted attention and positioned the Mercedes as a cool, tough car.
We have to wonder about the casting, though. The aging Peter Fonda reinforces the perception of Mercedes as an old brand.
It was a tough Super Bowl for Verizon! T Mobil attacked Verizon relentlessly, and Sprint joined the effort with this spot, highlighting the lengths to which people go in order to get out of a Verizon contract.
This was a solid over-time spot that communicated a benefit.
A grade of C might not seem like a solid score, but our panel is tough! We liked this Buick ad. It built off the existing campaign, challenging people to rethink the brand. With Cam Newton and a supermodel it has the components of a Super Bowl spot.
Internet services firm Squarespace has run some terrible Super Bowl spots in the past few years. This year’s ad, featuring John Malkovich, was much better. The ad broke through the clutter and included a call to action: secure your domain name today on Squarespace.
KFC used the Colonel in its ad, locking in good brand linkage. The point came across: KFC now has golden chicken.
Snickers aired a live Super Bowl spot and noted the score to verify the fact.
The idea was clever: if you are hungry you might ruin a live Super Bowl ad or other big event.
The final execution was less compelling. It was cluttered, so the message didn’t come through clearly.
This year’s ad worked ok, but next year Snickers might want to stick with filming the spot in advance. We know the Snickers team is capable of creating great spots.
This spot was inspirational, highlighting the power of acceptance and welcoming. The problems: weak branding and linkage.
Detergent brand Persil had a solid spot on the Super Bowl featuring Bill Nye. The key point of difference: ten dimensions of clean. We have no idea what the dimensions are, or why Persil offers them. This is probably why the brand didn’t score better.
WeatherTech was back for its 4th year on the Super Bowl. This was its best effort, because the ad focused on the product (floor mats) and the benefit (preventing stains, dirt and spills). They also tried to breakthrough with engaging creative, but it might have been overshadowed by others.
You have to give Michelob credit for having a clear positioning. The brand is all about fitness. There is great alignment between the target and the benefit. This fitness focused ad was catchy, though all the fit people overwhelmed the product.
Morgan Freeman starred in this powerful ad from Turkish Airlines, a call to widen your world. Stronger branding would have strengthened the spot’s performance.
Ernie the Elephant starred in this spot about a treadmill. This was a functional but ultimately forgettable spot that didn’t break through the Super Bowl clutter.
Three minutes! Wow. This auto giant used the Super Bowl to relaunch Alfa Romeo in the United States, with a series of inspirational ads. This was a massive marketing investment.
The ads will certainly build awareness of Alfa Rome, and the brand might be comfortable with this for their launch. Still, the effort to differentiate could have been stronger and is something for the brand to keep an eye on.
Samsung provided a solid demonstration of new technology but branding was weak.
Nintendo used the Super Bowl to launch Switch, a new portable and docking device in a very safe spot.
The Lexus spot featured the spectacular dancing of Lil Buck and a powerful new car. The ad had a youthful, energetic feel. It certainly enhanced the Lexus brand to some degree.
There was a lot going on in the Super Bowl ad from Wix, including an exploding restaurant. This made it an engaging spot, but the brand and benefit got lost in the execution.
You have to give H&R Block credit for providing a point of difference: the firm uses the power of Watson and artificial intelligence to capture every possible tax break. The problem is that it will likely blend into the background against the other ads.
The video game aired a spot that might have broken through the clutter, but the ad suffered from weaker branding and benefit.
A spot featuring the Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady. Intel had previously aired this spot, which limits the Super Bowl impact.
Selling bottled water is a challenge. After all, it is water. Selling premium water is even more of a challenge, as these two brand demonstrated.
This was perhaps the most puzzling ad on the Super Bowl this year. The building supplies retailer showed an immigrant’s journey, presumably someone from Mexico heading to the United States. The ad leaves off and directs viewers to the company website to see the full spot, which includes a wall and a door.
The first problem here is that directing viewers to a website is not a great approach. Most people won’t make the effort. Why would they?
The second problem here is that the ad lacked a benefit. Why shop at, or work for, 84 Lumber?
84 Lumber was successful at generating some controversy, so that got them some attention and built awareness. But, to us, the effort just lacked a persuasive message.
This was a sweet but fairly predictable tire ad with weak branding.
These two video games aired dynamic spots but failed to communicate a clear benefit with weak branding.
There was a lot going on in Go Daddy’s Super Bowl ad. Apparently the ad is full of different references to various internet events. The only problem is that all the references obscured the point.
It isn’t easy to get people excited about oil, even during the Super Bowl. With little in the way of positioning, we wonder if this was a smart investment.