Faculty Column: The Super Bowl ads, how did they measure up?

Courtesy: Thunderbird School of Global Management
Courtesy: Thunderbird School of Global Management

By Professor Rick Baer

This time of year is really exciting from an advertising/marketing point-of-view. We have a few events – like the Super Bowl and the Oscars – that always attract a huge audience in the US. And there are some events on a global scale – like the Winter Olympics – that bring out lots of wonderful creativity. But, let’s get more specific – how do you try to measure the effectiveness of an ad? Especially one that costs $4MM for just 30 seconds on the Super Bowl.

It starts with identifying what is the goal of your brand’s MarComm. In class I use the “5 Buckets” framework to identify the 5 goals of MarComm: Category Need (CN), Brand Awareness (BA), Brand Attitude (BATT), Brand Purchase Intention (BPI) and Brand Purchase Facilitation (BPF). Each bucket represents a decision on where to focus your MarComm. If you are a new product, likely you will focus on filling the BA and BPI buckets. If you are introducing a new category of products, then you should fill CN and BA first. The aim should be to acknowledge upfront what your goal is and then focus your message and media choices to deliver on that goal. It is highly unlikely that you will try to fill just one bucket in any one piece of MarComm, but, filling more than 2 makes for very confusing messages. During the recent Super Bowl, we saw a lot of movies trying to create BA, we saw many brands trying to build/create their BATT through the use of emotions, such as humor in the Muppets in the Toyota Highlander ad, a love of patriotism in the Chrysler ad and just plain feeling “warm and fuzzy” in the Budweiser Puppy Love ad. Very few focused on BPI – trying to make me take a purchasing action – perhaps the only one was the BofA spot with U2. While ad recall is magnified when you “like” an ad and “feel something” positive about the brand, it does not always mean that this feeling translates into higher sales. I understand that Dorito’s sales were flat last year, even after their 2013 Super Bowl ads  were the most liked in many surveys. FYI – This year’s “Time Machine” ad for Doritos was # 2 on Ad Age’s AdMeter, just after the Bud Puppy Love ad.

So, how do make sure your ads are as effective as possible? Once you settle on the goal, then you have to look at your ad content or message. I have 6 indicators that should be used to evaluate the effectiveness of any MarComm message. Is the ad: Superlative, Important, Believable, Tangible, Memorable, and Authentic? An effective ad may have some or all of these indicators. If there are none of these, the ad will not be effective. I’ll pick two to discuss here. Being superlative in your message means: does the MarComm communicate something unique about my brand that I do better than anyone else? VW thought that the idea that there were more VWs with over 100,000 miles on the road than any other car brand merited an ad with “wings”.  Being authentic means: are you remaining true to who you are and delivering a consistent, compelling identity? Cheerios used a family breakfast table conversation to re-enforce the role Cheerios plays in a family’s life.

We are in an exciting time of year for marketers as there are many special events that often pull in huge viewing audiences – which is just what brands want to ensure their messages get seen or heard. But, unless the MarComm goal is clear and the message is focused, the ads will not yield the return on investment that was planned for. Using the above frameworks should help you become better at judging MarComm effectiveness.