Big game, big stakes: gaining a guarantee on Super Bowl advertising investment

Executive editors Natan Edelsburg (@twatan) and Adam Flomenbaum (@flobombin), and guest contributors, bring the inside track on the latest developments in the TV space.

In the “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” discussion, much will be made of ads that air on Sunday night during Super Bowl 51, from all manner of industry ‘experts.’ Rankings will be published the morning after Game Day, celebrating ad winners not the prevailing football team.

But in the ad competition the only opinions that really count are those of consumers who’ll eventually respond – or not– to what brands had to say during this year’s game. Stakes are the highest they’ve ever been with Fox reportedly asking for $5 million or more for a 30” spot, this before digital support is added. Investment required for Super Bowl advertising is now so great that even goliath advertisers such as KraftHeinz have created ways to participate in game day conversation while avoiding traditional media investment [see #SMonday].

Brands that are betting $5m+ on Super Bowl 51 advertising need to protect their spend, ad testing being one of the most obvious ways to ensure return on creative investment. One would, therefore, hope that industry standard ad testing methodologies are rock solid. Yet they are not. Much like political polling discovered in 2016, traditional, rationally-based ad research that probes for metrics such as “persuasion” or “brand linkage” is woefully poor at delivering predictive metrics.

So, what is a Super Bowl advertiser to do? First, making advertising emotional is the single most effective way to reap a big win that a large bet on Super Bowl advertising has to offer. Why? Because consumers use emotions to simplify and guide decision-making. Emotion is an important component of what behavioral economics calls System 1 thinking. System 1 is the quicker, easier mode of mental processing. It is instinctive, intuitive, associative, and enables us to make fast decisions. Brands and advertisers can employ System 1 thinking into their advertising, during Super Bowl and beyond, by focusing on three factors:

  • FAME: Fame simply is how readily your brand comes to mind. Super Bowl is the ultimate opportunity to make a brand mentally available – Famous – in the short and long-term memory of a largest number of consumers (an estimated 111.9 million TV viewers in 2016). Super Bowl advertisers must maximize the unprecedented reach opportunity Super Bowl provides, free from the shackles of easily forgettable message-based commercials. Go BIG and dramatic to the same extent that Super Bowl’s audience is both HUGE and captive! Last year’s Audi R8 spot was an example of an ad intended only to make a brand famous, versus focusing on what would have been – for most of us! – irrelevant rational messaging about the many assets of a $150k sports car!
  • FEELING: Viewers tune in to the Super Bowl to feel the highs and lows of the game, or watch with friends and family to feel socially connected. When we have a feeling about a brand, it helps us choose it over another. So whether elicited via humor, like Doritos ‘Dogs’, (which by the way, was the winner of 2016 FeelMoreSB), surprise as in the McDonalds ‘Pay With Lovin’ (winner of 2015 FeelMoreSB), or happiness, generated by Budweiser’s ‘Puppy Love’ which topped the FeelMoreSB in 2014. Advertising winners of Super Bowl 51 will be those leaving the audience smiling or crying tears of joy. The largest risk to advertising investment is leaving viewers feeling nothing but neutral.
  • FLUENCY: Established brands have distinctive assets. They can be slogans, logos, characters (like the animate, sunglass wearing M&Ms) even colors, and successful brands on Game Day will deploy their own fluent assets so as to minimize cogitative processing and maximize Fame and Feeling. T-mobile’s Drop the Balls leveraged the very recognizable “pink” of its branding to make a point.

A brand that makes us feel good through its advertising will encourage a future decision in its favor. The more you make people feel over time, the more of your brand they will buy. Brand winners from Super Bowl 51 will be those that maximize their huge investments to generate appreciable ROI—those who embrace the emotional characteristics of combination of Fame, Feeling and Fluency in their creative.

Alex Hunt is President of BrainJuicer Global Research, and he will be delivering the results of our LIVE testing of the Super Bowl ads and reporting them in real-time on Game Day, which will appear in FeelMoreSB. Contact him at to find out if he will be cheering on the Patriots or the Falcons.

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