This article is by Tim Calkins and Derek Rucker, Kellogg School of Management. Calkins is clinical professor of marketing and Rucker is the Sandy & Morton Goldman professor of entrepreneurial studies in marketing./>
For the past decade, we’ve been analyzing Super Bowl ads through a marketing lens. Each year we assemble a panel of students and evaluate each ad for its ability to build the brand and drive sales. The Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review is unique because we don’t care just about creativity or humor; we focus on the business impact, using a six-part framework to evaluate the creative.
What follows is a list of our favorite Super Bowl ads from the past 10 years. To create this list we started with the top-scoring spots from the Kellogg panel and then selected our personal favorites from that group.
Chrysler: To understand the potential of a Super Bowl ad you simply have to look at Chrysler. In 2011 the brand ran a long, dark and gritty ad featuring Eminem and the surprising line “Imported from Detroit.” The ad broke through the clutter and played a key role in the revitalization of the Chrysler brand.
Jeep: Chrysler Group ran another powerful spot in 2013, this one an ad for Jeep. This long, emotional piece embraced the brand’s military roots. The ad addressed the idea of troops coming home, a topic that had relevance in the country after long engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq. Jeep didn’t take a side in the debate about the conflicts. The brand simply said the troops have been missed and we want them back home safely. The spot rose above product feature advertising and stood out.
Google: In 2010 Google ran one of the most engaging Super Bowl spots of the past ten years. The ad, called “Parisian Love,” was simply a series of searches on Google. Each one led to the next and the spot told a simple, beautiful story. More important, the brand communicated product information and a benefit, all with incredible branding; it was clearly an ad for Google.
Dove: Super Bowl advertising is often funny and loud. Dove took a completely different approach in 2006 with its spot “True Colors.” The ad addressed a very serious topic: self-image among girls. This was a risky move by Unilever but it worked; Dove’s spot stood out and delivered its message with credibility and sensitivity.
Dannon: In 2012 Dannon ran one of the most combative Super Bowl ads ever. The spot featured John Stamos eating Oikos yogurt with an attractive lady. After he attempts to eat more than his share, she slugs him. This spot had great branding and communicated a benefit. It also made perfect strategic sense; Dannon at the time was losing share to new entrant Chobani. The message here: Dannon is fighting back.
Bud Light: Bud Light runs more Super Bowl ads than any other brand, so it isn’t surprising that to see it has a presence in our list of top spots. The quality of Bud Light’s ads has varied over the years but on occasion the brand produces brilliant work. The brand’s 2006 “Skydiving” spot grabbed attention, engaged people and delivered a product focused message.
Budweiser: Budweiser understands and respects the equity of its brand. Every year Budweiser advertises on the Super Bowl using its iconic Clydesdale horses. Its 2013 spot “Brotherhood” is our favorite; the spots speak to an emotional connection between a horse and its trainer. It also suggests, subtly, that Budweiser is made with care. If the company takes care of its horses it probably also takes care of its products.
Tide: Tide runs infrequently on the Super Bowl but when the brand shows up it does well. In 2008 the brand ran a very effective spot featuring a talking stain. The brand ran an even better spot in 2013 featuring a stain that resembled San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana, only to be removed by a Baltimore Raven’s fan. Tide’s spot is strong because it is product focused; the entire ad revolves around the stain and Tide removing it. The ad also is relevant; Tide capitalized on the two teams playing in the Super Bowl that year.
VW: In 2011 VW ran a spot that had incredible resonance with people. The ad, featuring a little boy who dressed up as Darth Vader, charmed the country. The creative execution is wonderful; the casting is perfect and the setting on target.
M&Ms: A Super Bowl spot has to have strong branding if it going to work. M&Ms excelled on this dimension with its 2012 spot. The ad discussed the introduction of a new color, brown, using the M&M characters. The spot grabbed attention, was distinctive and communicated that M&Ms is a fun brand.
There isn’t one model for a Super Bowl ad; some brands succeed with funny spots and some with serious spots. All of the best, however, have great branding, breakthrough the clutter and deliver a benefit. Advertisers will be trying to do all three things again this year.