McDonald’s Makes Winning Play at 2015 Kellogg School Super Bowl Advertising Review
Squarespace, Lexus and Heroes Charge Miss the Mark
The 2015 Super Bowl featured serious, emotional advertising. While the event usually tends to skew more towards humor, this year great humor was in shorter supply.
Overall the advertising was strong. Marketers are clearly focusing on creating spots that will resonate broadly and that appear to have heeded important strategic objectives
Still, this year had its highs and lows of advertising. This year almost 70 Kellogg MBA students evaluated all the spots with an emphasis on strategic rigor. What is meant by strategic rigor? The panel’s focus was not on liking or disliking of the ads; the focus was on the following question: Does the execution have the potential to build the brand and the business?
Here are the results.
McDonalds has struggled in recent years, but this year the brand delivered a very strong spot. The ad, featuring a promotion that let people to pay with love instead of cash, was heart-warming. Brand linkage was particularly strong; it was impossible to miss that this was an ad for McDonalds.
Fixing McDonalds is more difficult than creating a strong Super Bowl spot but this is a good first step.
AB InBev ran three very strong spots this year.
The Budweiser Clydesdale spot was a classic. The ad told a sweet story about a puppy and his relationship with the horses. As in the past, branding, linkage and distinction were all strong.
Budweiser also ran an ad attacking craft beers, mocking aspects such as their fruity flavors. This is classic defensive strategy, which takes ample finesse to pull off, but Bud presented a credible message.
Bud Light send another unsuspecting fellow on a remarkable trip in this year’s “up for whatever” spot. The ad was also marked by clear branding.
AB InBev knows how to create great Super Bowl ads, especially when it comes to the art of making sure the branding comes across.
Coke did a terrific job connecting its brand promise of happiness with a significant issue in the world: negative on-line comments. The spot had exceptionally strong branding, built upon earlier campaigns on happiness, and broke through the clutter on the Super Bowl.
P&G ran an unusual spot for the Always brand. The ad featured interviews with adults and kids about the phrase “like a girl” and asked people to consider why “like a girl” isn’t positive. The ad, which also featured a longer version posted earlier on You Tube, broke through the Super Bowl clutter. It was exceptionally distinctive and engaging. This pulled people in. Despite the limited and late branding the spot worked.
It isn’t easy to advertise a video game on TV. Clash of Clans pulled it off with a terrific spot featuring Liam Neeson. The ad captured his fascination with the game and did it in an engaging fashion. The positioning also really came through.
BMW had, without a doubt, the most remarkable piece of footage on the game. The clip of Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel talking about the internet twenty-one years ago was absolutely fabulous. It is remarkable how far we have come.
The concept of this ad was good but the execution was a little off. The spot compared the internet to i3, BMW’s new electric car. This wasn’t quite right; the comparison should have been to an electric car or perhaps done something to talk about the advanced aspects of the internet to i3. Also missing was the BMW equity; Katie and Bryant certainly weren’t enjoying the ultimate driving experience.
You don’t need to spend millions creating a Super Bowl spot. Victoria’s Secret pieced together some old footage and created a very successful ad. Branding was clear, the benefit came through and the ad fit with Victoria’s Secret’s equity.
The second ad in the Super Bowl, for Turbo Tax stood out. The ad featured scenes from the Revolutionary War and hypothesized that if the colonists could have filed their taxes for free, as they now can with Turbo Tax, then perhaps they never would have revolted.
The ad was distinctive and communicated a benefit: you can file for free with Turbo Tax.
You would think that after so many years of silly Doritos ads they would get old. They have found a means, through crowdsourcing, to keep the work fresh. Doritos ran two spots, developed through the Crash the Super Bowl promotion, and both worked well. Branding was strong. More important, Doritos featured prominently in the ad.
The team at Frito-Lay deserves credit for sticking with a winning formula.
Website provider Wix takes the prize for using the most NFL players in one spot. The brand’s ad showed a series of players building websites. Brett Favre, for example, builds the site “Favre and Carve.” It actually is a website: http://www.favreandcarve.com/
Wix had strong branding and communicated a benefit. Wix is easy enough for NFL players can use it to build a site, so you can use it too.
Three advertisers saluted fathers during the Super Bowl. Dove did the best job linking this noble message to the brand. The brand’s heart-warming spot focused on caring and linked it to Dove Men+Care, a new line of skin-care products.
Last year Microsoft had one of the strongest spots on the Super Bowl. This year the brand returned and ran two ads saluting the role of technology in the world. Both ads worked well but late branding raised some brand linkage concerns.
Mercedes took the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare to a new level with its Super Bowl spot. The spot worked was solid because the impressive Mercedes vehicle was integral to the story.
Pierce Bronson starred in a distinctive spot for Kia. When you think Kia, Pierce Bronson isn’t the first person you think of. He would drive a BMW, wouldn’t he? This ad works because it seems credible. Kia has an impressive vehicle. Perhaps it something Pierce would want, after all.
It is tempting to develop a totally new campaign for the Super Bowl. This is often a mistake; it is risky and you lose the connection to your base campaign. Discover used its existing campaign for its Super Bowl spot this year and this was a successful play. The ad was one of the few that used humor and it communicated a differentiating product feature about Discover.
T-Mobile’s spots did what Super Bowl ads need to. They stood out by featuring celebrities. They communicated benefits: Wi-Fi calling and rollover data. Of the two, the Kardashian spot was better; it had stronger branding and a simpler message.
Avocados from Mexico
Arguably the funniest spot this year was for avocados from Mexico. The scenario: countries are drafting animals. After Australia picks the kangaroo, Mexico picks the avocado, passing by a disappointed polar bear.
The spot was charming and had solid branding. There just wasn’t a lot about the joys of eating avocados.
Several years ago Chevrolet ran a spot featuring the end of the world. Mophie used the same creative idea this year to dramatize what happens when your cell phone runs out of juice. The spot was entertaining, with some amusing and distinctive scenes. It also leveraged an insight.
Despite the enjoyment of the spot, a challenge in the Mophie spot was linkage: did the brand come through?
This year the award for best product placement goes to Skittles; the Super Bowl broadcast showed Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch eating some before the game.
The brand then ran a solid ad on the Super Bowl with people fighting over the last Skittles.
Reaching 100 years old is an accomplishment. To celebrate its 100th year, Dodge interviewed a number of senior citizens. The spot had great breakthrough; it really stood out on the game. Linkage could have been stronger; it wasn’t clear how the words of wisdom related to Dodge. It also isn’t clear if being 100 years old is a reason to buy one brand of car over another. Haven’t most car brands been around for a while?
GoDaddy had to pull its initial Super Bowl spot last week after people let the company know that they hated it. This clearly was a setback for the firm; GoDaddy ended up airing a spot that didn’t break through and didn’t have much of a benefit.
Weight Watchers dramatized why losing weight is so hard. The spot was distinctive and identified an insight, but branding was weak and it lacked a clear benefit.
At one level, it is surprising that Snickers didn’t do better with the Kellogg panel. The ad had many of the key elements: it got attention, showed a benefit and built on an existing campaign. It might be that using a very old show like the Brady Bunch limited the ad’s appeal with regard to amplification and linkage. It has been many, many years since that show received broad viewing.
One of the stranger spots on the Super Bowl this year was for Loctite. It featured a collection of ordinary people dancing in an unattractive fashion. They all wore Loctite fanny-packs. It isn’t clear why someone would carry glue in a pouch. Are there different types of glue, so you need a pouch to carry them all? This spot is confusing and unappealing all at the same time.
Still, this spot was distinctive and had solid branding.
Game of War
Game of War’s spot featured Kate Upton. It was visually striking. One potential issue was linkage. It wasn’t clear that this spot was for a video game until the end; it looked a lot like a movie trailer.
Last year Weathertech ran a spot that lacked linkage. The message was about made in the U.S. and didn’t show much of the product.
This year’s spot from Weathertech was better because it was more product-focused. Still, the ad didn’t rise to the top. It may be that “Made in the U.S.” isn’t the most compelling benefit.
Essurance ran a spot that was distinctive and unnerving. It lacked a compelling benefit.
Toyota saluted fathers and bravery. The brand seemed to have invested heavily in this campaign. Unfortunately, the effort lacked linkage to the brand. How does Toyota link to fathers any more than Chevy or Audi or Kia?
Nationwide ran two very different spots on the Super Bowl. The first featured Mindy Kaling and highlighted that customers aren’t invisible at Nationwide. This spot had some issues: weak linkage and a questionable benefit. Still, it was engaging and stood out.
The brand then ran a spot featuring a deceased child. The goal was to highlight Nationwide’s work preventing accidents, a noble cause. Unfortunately, at best the ad fell flat. A message about a dead child simply is hard to swallow during the Super Bowl, a festive time enjoyed with friends, family, and kids.
Pharmaceutical advertising isn’t easy. The FDA requires fair-balance, so any positive message has to be off-set with warnings. Despite this, Jublia came through with a reasonable ad on the Super Bowl. If you have issues with toe fungus, you might want to ask your doctor about Jublia.
One of the longest spots on the Super Bowl was for Jeep. This remarkable ninety-second ad showed scenes from all around the world to the tune, “This land is your land.”
The spot was beautiful. It was distinctive and attracted attention. The problem was that the ad was based on a questionable strategy: environmental friendliness. Jeep was hoping to communicate that it has the smallest, lightest SUV, so the environmental impact on this wonderful world would be modest. The logic doesn’t quite hold together. The ad is a great one for the books in terms of the various goals great advertising has to cater to.
Perhaps if Jeep had focused on the joy of exploring this land it would have worked better.
This was a beautiful and impactful spot. It featured scenes of cruising and a voice over about the sea from John F. Kennedy.
The ad was distinctive and broke-through the clutter. It also showed cruising in a positive light.
Sprint ran one of the hardest-hitting ads on the Super Bowl, essentially saying that Verizon and AT&T were donkeys. The ad communicated a benefit and had solid breakthrough.
The NFL’s scary spot for domestic abuse was risky but may have ended up having limited impact. The ad ran just before half-time, at a moment when people were focused on the upcoming Katy Perry show. We suspect most people missed the terrifying scene.
To stand out on the Super Bowl, you have to be distinctive. Lexus ran two spots that featured cars driving in a dynamic fashion. This isn’t enough to achieve breakthrough on a stage this big.
Of the three brands saluting fathers, Nissan was least effective according to the Kellogg panel. The spot, a wistful look at a neglected child, featured a sober message and virtually no linkage. Whether or not people would take away an upbeat message at the end is uncertain. For this reason, the lack of linkage might have been good; connecting this sad tale to Nissan is unlikely to help the brand. Still, overall, not a strong branded message.
Other D grades: Skechers, Geico, Heroes Charge.
Squarespace missed this year with an ad featuring Jeff Bridges. It wasn’t clear what the ad was for or how Squarespace fit in. This creates significant concerns about positioning. The spot, featuring a lot of “ommmm” may have garnered some initial attention, but it needed a big payoff. There wasn’t any.