Making Ads Add Up for More than a Day

Remember Doberwawa? Oh, and that great Muppet ride, and that vignette on love versus war? Most important, do you remember what brands or products were behind these Super Bowl ads?

You’re not alone if you answered no. Neither do at least 65% of Super Bowl viewers each year, according to advertising research firm Communicus. Beyond not recalling the products promoted in ads—which cost brands about $4 million for 30 seconds—44% of us can’t even recall the ads shortly after. (As a Broncos season ticket holder, I’m trying not to recall the game either).

Super Bowl games give NFL coaches and commentators plenty to analyze game day and beyond. They also provide just as much fodder for advertising pundits to chew on, savor, and spit out, as the ad industry crowns its own champion at the end of the fourth quarter with the U.S. Ad Meter and other coveted honors. Beyond USA Today’s “Most Liked Ads,” researchers have been analyzing whether the industry’s most expensive and creative endeavors pay off. The findings? Pretty much an epic thud by traditional marketing success standards—you know, the old fashioned metrics, like response rates, sales conversion, and ROI. Budweiser topped the likeability list this year and last with “Brotherhood” for 2013 and “Puppy Love” for 2014. However, “Puppy Love” may have helped sell more Labrador puppies than beer. The same Communicus study concludes that 80% of Super Bowl ads don’t help sales. 

Yet every year, big brands return for more. Companies now compete for likeability, tweets, YouTube views, and other honors that really don’t mean anything if you care about revenue gain and ROI. In addition, new Super Bowl success metrics have emerged in recent years, including the emotional reaction score. The emotional reaction score, calculated by Innerscope, looks for physiological reactions of ad viewers to determine which ads generated the most emotions like joy, excitement, and frustration.

Contrary to what many marketers may think, an ad’s level of emotional impact doesn’t always result in strong revenue impact, especially if these ads appeal to our “conscious” emotions versus our unconscious ones or those associated with key behavior drivers like loss aversion. 

Only one metric matters when it comes to Super Bowl ads, or any other ad for that matter, and it’s purchase intent. What tugs at our heartstrings or moves us to giggle doesn’t always move us to purchase, which is the ultimate test for all things marketing.  

This year’s winner for purchase intent is yet to be announced; however, we have much to learn from past ads scoring high for this metric. For example, “Got Milk” was one of the leaders for 2013. The ad featured Dwayne Johnson, who put his job of saving the world on hold to get milk for his daughter. This ad hit deep into the psyche of parents by tapping their fear of failing their children. In addition, one of the highest purchase intent ads from 2012 was Chevrolet’s “Apocalypse,” which depicted the reunion of fellow Chevy truck drivers experiencing the end of the world. This too scored highly because it tapped into our “unconscious” survival instinct and need to feel prepared for disasters.

Ads that are clever don’t always sell. They entertain. Ads that are emotionally charged don’t always sell either. But ads that appeal to our unconscious and instinctive emotions, like survival and security, tend to inspire behavior and influence purchase. When developing your brand’s messaging platform for ads, social media, and all communications efforts, start with the following three mission-critical tasks:

1. Define the core emotion associated with your product. Is it fear of loss, frustration, fear of failing others, or uncertainty about the future? Or is it anticipation of security through social status improvement? Enhancing joy or acceptance from others? 

2. Determine how your product calms the associated fear or fulfills the anticipated joy. For example, if you’re selling insurance, you’re really selling assurance for quality of life.

3. Test different copy approaches for communicating the above emotional values. Once you nail the right one, keep it fresh by periodically testing new variations and offers.

Jeanette McMurtry, principal of e4marketing, is an authority on psychology-based marketing, speaking at business events worldwide. She is a Back by Popular Demand trainer, speaker, and course instructor for the DMA.
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