Winners and Losers From Super Bowl 50’s Advertising Game

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Super Bowl is the biggest advertising competition of the year. Brands that win big can reap the viral benefits for months to come. And those that fail do so publicly, oftentimes with mounting consumer criticism that can take just as long to overcome.

From Mountain Dew’s “PuppyMonkeyBaby” spot to the seemingly endless and oddly placed array of ads about foot fungus, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome, it was a peculiar lot this year, leaving many consumers scratching their heads.

It wasn’t just the ad content that was unusual this year. Advertisers made some notable strategy adjustments as well.

Ninety-two percent of national ads were teased or released in full this year compared to just 62 percent last year, indicating the growing need for advertisers to extend the life of their $5 million-plus investment by generating pre-game buzz.

The growing price of Super Bowl ad time no doubt influenced a mere 28 percent of advertisers to invest in spots that were longer than 30 seconds, compared to 46 percent last year; and only two brands ponied up for multiple in-game ads compared to seven last year.

There were fewer serious ads focused on strength and empowerment messages, which were last year’s themes. Instead, offbeat humor dominated – likely to counterbalance the serious content with which consumers are bombarded in an election year.

Super Bowl ad popularity polls are common after the big game, though popularity doesn’t always equate to effectiveness. Often, consumers can’t recall the brands associated with some of the most entertaining spots.

Memphis-based RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy’s team of marketing strategists assessed this year’s crop of ads according to what matters most: viewer connection, strength of storytelling, memorability, reinforcement of brand differentiators, likelihood that viewers will remember the brand with which the ad was associated, and likelihood to drive brand affinity and sales.

Raging inferno: These brands were on fire, making good use of their Super Bowl investment.

Marmot – “Love the Outside” – This Super Bowl rookie stole the show with the story of its marmot mascot and his human buddy enjoying the great outdoors in branded apparel. The love between man and animal goes a bit too far in this entertaining spot. Be sure to check out the even more awkward uncut version on the brand’s website. Marmot wins on its storytelling abilities, how well it connects with consumers, how memorable the spot is and the clarity with which it communicates what it sells.

Hyundai – “First Date” – While technically this spot aired prior to kick-off, it was a fan favorite thanks to the comedic abilities of Kevin Hart who uses the new “car finder” feature on his Hyundai Genesis to outsmart his daughter’s suitor. The integration of the car’s differentiating feature with the storyline is genius.

Honda – “A New Truck to Love” – Set to the tune of Queen’s “Someone to Love,” a sheep farmer inadvertently teaches his sheep to sing thanks to his Ridgeline – the only truck with a truck-bed audio system. Points to Honda for its crafty and memorable communication of a strong brand differentiator in a category where differentiators are hard to come by. Freddie Mercury would be proud.

Solid heat: These brands also generated some heat.

Kraft Heinz – “Weiner Stampede” – Heinz tugs at the heart strings of animal lovers with this smile-inducing ad featuring slow-motion video of Dachshunds in hot dog costumes running through a field toward “The Ketchups” – the family of ketchup varieties offered by the brand. It’s memorable, it connects and it successfully communicates that ketchup varieties exist and will make us happy.

Audi – “Commander” – This carmaker tells the story of a retired astronaut who has lost his zeal for life, set to the soundtrack of David Bowie’s “Starman.” His son helps him reconnect with his past by putting him behind the wheel of a space-age looking Audi R8. The commercial speaks to Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers and the real struggles they are facing with their aging parents. This ad connects through touching and relevant storytelling, and it wins points for memorability.

Jeep – “Portraits” – This ad tells the story of the many well-known lives it’s impacted over its 75 years. The copy is poetic, the photos are breathtaking, and the tag line – “we don’t make Jeep, you do” – makes us feel a part of something special. It connected amidst all of the comedic Super Bowl clutter.

Smoldering: These brands, sadly, couldn’t even muster a flicker of a flame.

LG – “The Man from the Future” – What a disappointing long-awaited sophomore Super Bowl performance from producer Ridley Scott, whose last big game contribution was Apple’s legendary “1984” ad.

Square Space – “Successes” – Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key are two eccentric amateur sports commentators with a lot to say and nothing to say – all at the same time.

Trifecta of Drug Makers – Thank you Jublia, Xifaxan and AstraZeneca for making us think about foot fungus, irritable bowel syndrome and constipation while eating our hot wings. Good times.

If you’re surprised “PuppyMonkeyBaby” didn’t make the smoldering list after likely inducing your gag reflex, odds are you’ve talked about the commercial since it aired, you likely remember it was about a Mountain Dew brand, and there’s a decent chance you won’t forget it. That’s more than can be said for 75 percent of the Super Bowl 50 ads. #puppymonkeybaby.

Lori Turner-Wilson, CEO and founder of RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy, can be reached at