Do Super Bowl ads lead to business results?

Do Super Bowl ads lead to business results?
By Elliott Dennis
Feb 7, 2020
While product sales are the ultimate barometer of ad success, brands should not discount the fuzzier and buzzier benefits that a Super Bowl placement offers.

With the dust settled from Super Bowl LIV, the Kansas City Chiefs’ victory parade marched, the water cooler talk subsided, and the ad meter results calculated, now’s a good time to evaluate the effects of this year’s Super Bowl ads.

Many in the industry love to examine whether Super Bowl ads lead to sales, citing studies that both prove and refute the hypothesis. But those reports almost always pigeonhole sales as the sole KPI for an ad and fail to take into consideration the various objectives brands might have for participating in the Super Bowl—new product awareness, brand favorability/loyalty, and purchase intention.

Make no mistake, the Super Bowl is not a channel for direct marketing. It’s one of the last remaining tentpole, live events that provides extreme reach, and several brands effectively leveraged that reach this year to inject themselves into cultural relevancy and their key product features into consumer conversations.

The most talked-about Super Bowl ad ever made

One way to spark a conversation is through the introduction of a captivating new character. Planters used this technique to great effect when it killed off its beloved 104-year-old mascot, Mr. Peanut, and reincarnated him into a new character, #BabyNut. ICF Next was proud to partner with VaynerMedia on the brief from Kraft Heinz “to create the most-talked-about Super Bowl ad ever made.”

Planters’ Brand Manager, Samantha Hess, shared with Adweek on Wednesday that “Mr. Peanut is one of the best-known icons in advertising, but has also been along for quite some time and isn’t necessarily one of the most relevant and contemporary out there. It wasn’t just about Mr. Peanut dying to die. In his coming back, it enabled us to set the stage for something new and exciting for the brand.”

That stage setting isn’t always clearly measured in sales results, but it’s also not lost on Planters that the best way to fight against private label nut competition is through the power of brand equity. Planters masterfully reinforced the power of its brand for weeks leading up to, during, and after the Super Bowl through traditional and social media, resulting in its campaign generating the most earned media placements (even including a New Yorker cartoon and SNL skit) of any Super Bowl brand. According to NBC News, all that coverage is worth an estimated $13.7 million in equivalent brand value, which would more than cover the cost of the Super Bowl commercial’s airtime Fox sold for an estimated $5.6 million.

The cross-over strategy

Rather than teasing-out its Super Bowl spots leading up to the game, Procter & Gamble leveraged cultural relevancy in another effective way by airing five Tide ads, with three of them including cross-overs with Bud Light’s the Bud Knight, DC Comics’ Wonder Woman, and Fox’s The Masked Singer (which premiered its third season post-game to an estimated 24 million viewers, making it one of the most- watched network TV shows after football). Early measurements indicate the strategy appears to have paid off, with favorable brand lift from key millennial audiences due its resurrection of the Bud Knight (who was killed off in last year’s Super Bowl) and integration with the Masked Singer. We’ll be watching to see if Procter & Gamble can keep that momentum going through to the summer when Wonder Woman 1984 is released.

Using a key insight to make an impact

According to USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter, Jeep’s “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray (reprising his role from the 1993 comedy classic) was the big winner of the night, followed by Hyundai’s Boston-celebrity themed “Smaht Pahk.” Both are winning examples of how to use a key insight (noticing Groundhog Day and the Super Bowl fell on the same day and Smart Park being the preferred, shortened name) to create an ad that introduces new products and key features to a massive audience in an entertaining and memorable way. In the case of Jeep, the company’s CMO realized that this year’s Super Bowl and Groundhog Day would be occurring on the same day for the first time in 54 years and that this calendrical serendipity was perfectly aligned with Jeep’s new core messaging that “no day is the same in a Jeep Gladiator.” For the redesigned 2020 Hyundai Sonata, focus groups revealed that the model's new Remote Smart Parking Assist was a big hit with consumers and that they preferred its shorthand name, Smart Park. Car purchases are not everyday purchases, so time will tell if all the brand awareness and favorability for these two ads will translate to sales.

The best Super Bowl ads allow brands to win hearts

Sure, Super Bowl ads can influence consumer behavior: whether you’re a CPG brand that can tease its Super Bowl ad(s) before the game when fans are shopping for Super Bowl party snacks or cleaning supplies, or a luxury brand that needs to remind consumers of your key benefits for future consideration. But they can also win hearts and inspire loyalty—two KPIs that are harder to measure than product sales, but no less important. All of this is why Gary Vaynerchuk of VaynerMedia famously shared that Super Bowl commercials should cost more than they do because with virtually all of America watching, a captivating ad can play a huge role in defining how people view the brand, which translates to positive business results.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the author
  1. Elliott Dennis, Senior Partner, Business Development

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