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Creative Works Brand Strategy Popeyes

System1’s 5 most effective US ads of May, from Popeyes to Instacart


By The Drum, Editorial

June 2, 2023 | 8 min read

Jon Evans, chief customer officer at System1, says not every ad is created equal in the eyes of the public. Below, he shares the five US ads that were most enjoyed by viewers last month.

a mother and her son in law bake cupcakes

A woman surprises her daughter and grandchild in Publix's Mother's Day spot / Credit: Publix

Mother’s Day is the main event in our top 5 ads through May, with a quirky Millennial Mom vignette from Instacart and a more traditional, beautifully done spot from Publix.

Both ads show there’s a lot more you can do with Mother’s Day than just chocolate, flowers and gifts deals. Elsewhere in a varied list there are two different takes on local heritage from Wegmans and Popeyes and a rare sighting of a B2B ad on the list, from Shopify.

5. Wegman’s: ‘Behind the vines: Federico Cerelli’

Star rating: 4.1

The straight-to-camera testimony is possibly the oldest form of video advertising, but get the mood and topic right and it will still bring results. Here winemaker Federico Cerelli tells us about how he creates the wines he makes for Wegmans, with lots of mouthwatering photography of grapes and the Tuscan sun. Yes, photography not footage – this four star ad is essentially a presentation, with Cerelli himself getting only a few moments on camera. The images and the accent do the work of building the aura of authenticity which makes viewers enjoy the ad. Proof that even the lowest-budget work can do the job emotionally.

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4. Instacart: ‘Gift her a mom-ent’

Star rating: 4.4

Mothers’ Day ads can be very traditional – delivery service Instacart have done a great job of capturing a younger, quirkier vibe, with a mom enjoying a self-pampering moment in a dry bath surrounded by gifts and treats. It can’t last, but her daughter rushing in to give her a hug is at least a delightful way to end the moment. Cam’ron’s instant earworm “Hey Ma” provides the soundtrack to this finely targeted Millennial Mom ad. Fortunately, happiness knows no generational divide, and Instacart scores 4.4 stars with the wider audience too.

3. Shopify: ‘Sell to your customers everywhere’

Star rating: 4.7

It’s unusual to see a B2B ad in the monthly Top 5, and commerce platform Shopify’s high score this month is down to a combination of subject matter and timing with this plant-shop focused spot. On screen as in real life, plants help people feel good, and these ones are beautifully shot, with lots of sunshine reminding us that it’s springtime too. Shopify’s 4.7 star rating is no fluke, though. The ad also performs exceptionally on short-term spike and has a very strong Fluency rating. A top-class use of 15 seconds to explain, promote and please the viewer.

2. Popeyes: ‘We don’t make sense. We make chicken.’

Star rating: 5.1

Popeyes’ new campaign leans hard on its New Orleans heritage, listing all the things about the city that don’t make sense – but that happen anyway, because that’s how New Orleans does things. It’s a sly way of promoting the chicken chain’s own against-the-norm practices, like slow marinating, which may not make sense in a fast-food world but which make Popeyes the success it is. The mix of local pride, delicious food, vibrant street life and a funky soundtrack sends the ad into five-star territory.

1. Publix ‘Happy Mother’s Day, from Publix’

Star rating: 5.9

Most brands make Mother’s Day ads, but supermarket Publix’ effort is a real masterclass in how to do it, netting our maximum 5.9 star score with an ad that tells a simple story with beautiful emotional timing. A middle-aged woman is teaching a younger man – we assume it’s her son – how to make cakes. Turns out it’s her son-in-law, making his wife and kid her mom’s special cakes for Mother’s Day. The reason the ad is so effective is the human connection built up between the man and his mother-in-law – with dialogue, looks and gestures we can really feel the fondness and respect between the two bakers. Because the ad takes a while to build that relationship, when we get our second and third hits of human connection – between husband and wife and mother and daughter – they feel even more real. We’ve seen how kind these people are, so we feel it alongside the younger woman. It’s a pure feelgood slice of life, perfectly executed.

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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 five-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.

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