This Super Bowl spot was February’s most effective US ad
From John Travolta to delectable chocolate cake, here are System1’s top five US ads of February, according to the firm’s research, as well commentary from System1’s chief customer officer, Jon Evans.
Disney celebrates its 100th anniversary through the eyes of its many characters / Credit: Disney
February’s best US ads are dominated by Super Bowl spots, which isn’t a surprise – at $7m for a 30-second spot, you’d hope brands would be saving some of their best work for game night.
As ever, the big question is whether brands who perform well at the Super Bowl will sustain that level of quality and emotional connection across the rest of 2023. So far the winners, for February at least, include Amazon, M&M’s and Disney.
5. Amazon Prime: ‘Saving Sawyer’
Star rating: 4.4
Amazon Prime’s storytelling blockbuster puts the brand firmly in a supporting role in a very human (and canine) story. Sawyer is a beloved pet whose eagerness sometimes crosses the line into bad behavior, and the ad’s storyline toys with the idea that his family will make the difficult decision to part ways with him. Of course, thanks to some smart Amazon purchases, they don’t. In a Super Bowl short on big stories, Amazon stood out, though the reveal came slightly too late to resolve all the negative emotion the story built up, leaving this a strong 4.4-star ad.
4. T-Mobile: ‘New Year. New neighbor’
Star rating: 4.7
A big theme of this year’s Super Bowl ads was nostalgia for old movies and TV shows, with T-Mobile’s Grease pastiche being the best-performing. Referencing already-loved popular culture is a shrewd way of ensuring people feel good about your ad, and with the budgets required for Super Bowl ads, it can be a safer bet than using all-new IP. The gamble for advertisers is that the source material might be all the audience takes away from the ad – not whom it’s for. T-Mobile gets a good ‘band fluency‘ score, so recognition isn’t a problem. And let’s face it, an ad packed with this much product info wouldn’t score 4.7 stars without Travolta singing it.
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3. M&M’s: ‘They’re back for good’
Star rating: 4.8
One of the most talked-about marketing ploys this Super Bowl was M&M’s supposed retirement of their spokescandy characters. The animated candies have been one of the most successful ‘fluent devices‘ in US advertising, their antics landing M&M‘s a pile of four and five-star ads, so if true, this would have been a major gamble. Of course, it was a set-up for a gag about comedian Maya Rudolph replacing the candies, and for the spokescandies’ triumphant return at the end of Super Bowl night. This return ad landed in our Top 3 with a 4.8-star score, after the initial Rudolph spot scored only one star. Audiences love the spokescandies, and the stunt proved it, though you might ask yourself whether a more conventional spokescandy ad would have performed just as well.
2. Wegmans: ‘Ultimate chocolate cake’
Star rating: 5.1
The only non-Super Bowl ad in our Top 5, shows that if you have the right product, the basics are more than enough to outperform the big hitters. Retailer Wegmans’ ad for its chocolate cake is literally just a shot of the cake and a guy talking about how nice it is. But the cake looks delicious, and the guy sounds sincere and genuinely enthusiastic about it. Even though the formula here is one retail and food brands have been using for decades, when you get the execution right, people aren’t tired of it, and Wegmans’ authenticity leaves audiences feeling genuinely happy.
1. Disney: ‘Disney100 special look’
Star rating: 5.3
The winner on Super Bowl night and the most effective February ad comes from Disney, with the celebration of its centenary. Disney has a huge advantage over most advertisers – that library of dozens of the world’s most popular characters, who they make full use of in their creative. Most Disney ads are like this one, with a montage of beloved characters and franchises giving a feel of how wide and deep the Disney magic goes. This birthday special adds a minor twist to the template by giving plenty of screen time to fans, especially Disney-loving children playing those characters. That extra human touch pushes the ad to five stars and ensures it lands at the top of February’s list.
System1 tests ads on measures that predict long-term brand growth (star rating) and short-term sales growth (spike rating) – each between one and five stars. These measures are validated using the independent IPA database and also against real sales data at a category level. The star rating captures the emotional response to an ad. Only 1% of ads on the system score five stars. A one-star ad will have zero effect on brand growth, while a 5-star ad will have an exceptional impact (up to three points of market share gain, depending on investment). Often the work that receives the highest ratings comes as a surprise to everyone.