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Ad Wars IX: Brand Battles and Marketing Mess Ups

By Mary Grace Richardson, Co-Editor

If you’ve been down on yourself, remember that Super Bowl advertisers will always care about you—at least during their 30 second, $5 million commercial. Each year a handful of strategic and hopeful companies dedicate their imagination and checkbooks to reaching you and 111 million other viewers during the most watched event in the United States.

This past Wednesday evening Professor Richard Baer and the Thunderbird Marketing Association Club hosted the ninth annual Ad Wars to evaluate what makes advertising effective using commercials from Sunday’s Super Bowl. Baer is most known and deeply respected for his areas of expertise in brand management, global marketing strategy and tactics, promotion, and international advertising. Having evaluated commercials over the past 35 years, Baer is also credited with creating and producing more than 200 ads.

Baer started Ad Wars IX with a general question for those who attended: which commercials did you like? Some of the ones people called out included Tide and Airbnb, which were also highly rated by the Ad Meter, USA Today’s open voting survey that ranks the 63 aired commercials.

But to give us the language to describe why we like what we like, Baer described the “5 Mental Buckets” that advertisers have in mind when they’re brainstorming how to win our favor.

Category Need – tapping into the buyer’s belief that the category, product or service is necessary to satisfy a current problem or desire. Rated one of the worst, the GoDaddy commercial didn’t make the cut in this area.

Brand Awareness – solidifying the buyer’s ability to identify, recognize, or recall the brand in sufficient detail to make a purchase: “Do I even think of or know of the brand?” Evony similarly wasn’t received well to new audiences.

Verizon uses "brand intention" to help potential customers make a decision to use its service. Courtesy of Sally Harrison Design Studio
Verizon uses “brand intention” to help potential customers make a decision to use its service. Courtesy of Sally Harrison Design Studio

Brand Attitude – establishing the buyer’s evaluation and belief about the brand: “What do I feel about the brand?” Many of the people at Ad Wars IX explained how Lexus’s commercial evoked a feeling of physical prowess and powerful expression.

Brand Purchase Intention – encouraging the buyer’s self-instruction to purchase the brand or to take a purchase-related action, usually with a countdown.

Brand Purchase Facilitation – taking advantage and leveraging all aspects of the marketing mix to help the consumer make the purchase and highlighting the importance of an integrated marketing communication plan.

As an incentive to apply these terms to real-life examples, Baer passed around sheets and explained the contest: whoever could label the commercial with the most relevant bucket and explain their choice most reasonably will win a prize. While marketers know that babies, pets, and sex are the best ways to get people’s attention, the sample commercials he showed in this segment—Google Home, Mercedes, and Lifewater—went beyond the basics to share a story about their company.

DeBeer's ad and slogan embodies the "believable" strategy. Courtesy of Pinterest
DeBeer’s ad and slogan embodies the “believable” strategy. Courtesy of Pinterest

According to Baer, the next strategy advertisers deploy when delivering their message can go in a few different directions as he defines below:

Superlativepromise something that nobody can do

Important – must be something that matters

Believable – a unique, plausible reason why you can make your claim

Memorable – links to a memorable feeling or humanizing factor that gives it penetration power

Tangible – performs in a way that’s completely aligned and consistent with all your claims

Authentic – remains true to who you are and delivers a consistent, compelling identity at every touch point

And so using this criteria, which were Baer’s Top 3 Super Bowl ads of this year? When Baer thinks about a commercial he likes, he says he tends to think about the parameters and aspects he shared during Ad Wars IX. He looks for one that’s memorable, humorous, and has something relevant but unexpected. As he explains, these ticked the boxes and proved to be the most successful:


“The third one was the Mercedes ad that we saw here today. For its target audience, I thought it was telling a very memorable and believable story. It used music in a very powerful way to reminisce about times in the past.”


“Another ad that I thought was relevant, meaningful, and emotional was the Airbnb ad. From a brand awareness perspective, it did poorly from my point of view, but I thought it had something very believable and important about the message that they were trying to send. I thought the Airbnb ad was impactful in this way.”


“I thought the Mr. Clean ad was unusual for it being a cleaning product in the Super Bowl, but the little twist at the end I thought was relevant. I thought they did a good job if their attempt was to create an attitude of warmth and friendliness and modernity around an icon that’s been around for 50 or 60 years.”


Living in the information age and the digital revolution, there’s no getting one past Baer. He has a few choice words for the makers of the Audi commercial —

“The Audi ad says women power and women should be equal, so somebody did a quick dive into how many women are part of the voting board of directors, and there are none. What percent of managers at Audi are women? 20%. Isn’t that interesting? How can you have this commercial and then in real life not live that value. Some people liked that commercial, but I voted it down on the bottom because it wasn’t authentic. It was supposed to be meaningful and important, but knowing the background, it was the opposite. Audi’s caught.”

But viewers, after seeing these commercials and understanding their branding processes, never doubt that you are worth millions to make laugh, cry, care—and well, ultimately buy.

One thought on “Ad Wars IX: Brand Battles and Marketing Mess Ups

  1. Since I regretfully missed the super bowl as well as Ad Wars, this was a great summary. I can’t believe Audi doesn’t live by what it proclaims smh. Great article !

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