Super Bowl Ad Meter Winners – Where Are They Now?
Every year, USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter allows viewers to vote on the top commercials from the big game.
Some large companies still spend a full 10 percent of their annual budget on one Super Bowl commercial. However, a study by advertising research group Communicus found that four out of five Super Bowl ads—even those that generated noticeable media and social media buzz—did not change consumers’ buying habits.
“I can give you many reasons why CMOs continue to pay more and more in TV buys for less and less,” said Bob Garfield, NPR host and coauthor of the 2013 book Can’t Buy Me Like, in a recent interview with me. “It’s always been done. It’s easy to quantify ROI, even if those numbers are substantially bogus. It’s easy for the client to see the output of your work. And it’s easy to believe that you’re still in control of your image and your reputation, which brands no longer are.”
With the 2015 Super Bowl only months away, let’s take a look the top 10 most popular ads from Super Bowl 2014 and see if the big game hype transformed into big gains in sales.
#1 and #3 – Budweiser
“Puppy Love” – A horse and puppy refuse to be separated.
“Hero’s Welcome” – Budweiser holds a homecoming parade for a returning soldier.
The Payoff: Sales of Budweiser have increased internationally, but are sliding in the U.S. According to a May 7 Wall Street Journal report, parent company AB InBev reported that first quarter “sales to retailers in the U.S. fell 2.6%…Weather aside, weak sales of Budweiser, which continues to lose market share in the U.S., have been a lingering problem for AB InBev’s management.”
“Why has Budweiser continually invested gigantic sums of money to do ads that are literally designed, constructed at every stage, to win a popularity contest like the USA Today Ad Meter?” Garfield asked. “It is one of the great mysteries of the universe. There is almost no benefit to doing that because there is no correlation – at all – between how cute you think puppies are and whether you are going to buy a six-pack. It just doesn’t exist. To me it’s kind of jaw-dropping. There are some brands historically who have used the super bowl exactly right, but for the most part they use it exactly wrong, and I don’t think to impress women with cute animals is exactly cultivating the core audience for Budweiser.”
The Score: 0-2
#2 and #4 – Doritos
“Cowboy Kid” – A boy dressed a cowboy rides his dog and lassoes up some Doritos.
“Time Machine” – A boy gets a man to try out his “time machine” that runs on Doritos.
According to a June 27 Forbes article, “Frito-lay holds a massive share of 72.4% in the tortilla and tostada chips segment, with strong brands such as Doritos and Tostitos together generating dollar sales of $1.9 billion in the country last year.”
Doritos scores two points for the advertisers. The brand is going strong, and I would attribute part of the success of these ads to the brand’s embrace of user-generated content. The ads are created by fans and the ones that air during the game are selected in an online vote.
This helps the brand involve fan-influencers in content creation and the allows Doritos to use it’s online and social media presence to turn the selection of an ad into an event. The Super Bowl ad is just one piece of a larger puzzle – an example of advertising done the right way.
The Score: 2-2
#5 – Radio Shack
The Payoff: The company announced that sales fell 19% in the last quarter, and the brand’s stock closed below $1 per share on June 20 for the first time in its history. RadioShack is in the process of closing 1,100 underperforming stores.
In September, the New York Times noted, “In a stark disclosure of its deteriorating financial situation, RadioShack said in a regulatory filing that, absent an external solution, it would be unable to finance its operations ‘beyond the very near term,’ raising doubts about its future in business.”
Radio Shack put the cart before the horse. They bought an expensive Super Bowl ad announcing “we’re back”, but didn’t do any work to improve the fundamental problems with their business – high prices and crappy service. All the Super Bowl ads in the world won’t change the fact that Radio Shack is an unpleasant place to shop. The damage at this point is likely irreversible, so the $4 million (not including production costs) that the company spent on the Super Bowl ad will just be another write off in the eventual bankruptcy filing or dissolution of the company.
“I went to Radio Shack the other day and was wholly unimpressed,” said Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local and author of the book Likeable Leadership. Like him, many in the marketing industry had high hopes for Radio Shack based on the reception of that ad, but the company’s actions didn’t match up with the ad’s promise.
The Score: 2-3
#6 – Hyundai
The Ad: “Sixth Sense” – A dad saves his son from a variety of misfortunes.
The Payoff: On July 24, Automotive World commented on Hyundai’s first half results for 2014, noting, “In spite of strong sales of its new models and cost savings, a strong Korean won led to a 5.8 percent decrease in operating profit, compared to the same period last year…Hyundai Motor forecasts that an unfavorable business environment will continue in the second half, with uncertainties surrounding the global auto industry.”
GM famously sat out the 2012 Super Bowl, but in general automotive companies have been the biggest spenders during the Super Bowl. The ads seemed to have little impact for Hyundai or other auto makers. The industry saw it’s best month in eight years this past August, where there are no Super Bowl ads to be found.
The Score: 2-4
The Ad: “Gracie” – A father and his daughter discuss the arrival of a new baby.
The Result: This past March, General Mills CEO Ken Powell said in a phone interview that sales have been “down somewhat” for the Cheerios, despite an expensive Super Bowl ad and promoting the removal of GMOs from the cereal.
In general, the US and other developed markets have been turning away from cereal. This trend has affected competitors like Kellos as well, as Americans have turned toward higher-protein breakfast options like yogurt, protein bars and eggs.
What this shows us is that cute, well-received commercials are not enough to change public trends and tastes. First Cheerios must make meaningful changes to the product – they have since added protein – to be more in line with what the public wants, and then splurge on the cute ad. Like Radio Shack, they have put the cart before the horse.
The Score: 2-5
#8 – Microsoft
The Ad: “Technology” – This spot notes all of the ways technology has helped solve people’s medical problems.
The Payoff: The company announced on July 17 that they were laying off up to 18,000 employees, the largest cuts in the company’s 39-year history.
The New York Times noted, “While Microsoft still makes profits that executives at other companies would be ecstatic to have, it has been beaten on the biggest new trends in tech, including mobile, Internet search and cloud computing. As a result, it is regularly left out of conversations about companies defining the next generation of technology, outflanked and overshadowed by companies like Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon.”
The Score: 2-6
#9 and #10 – Coca-Cola and Pepsi
Coke: “Going All The Way” – A kid returns a fumble for a touchdown and then runs to Lambeau Field.
Pepsi: “Soundcheck” – Giant hands use city landmarks as instruments.
The Payoff: The two cola giants rounded out the ad rankings with Coke ranked #9 and Pepsi ranked #10.
Both sodas’ parent companies (Coca-Cola and PepsiCo) have a wide swath of drink and snack holdings and have been able to stem the losses that are affecting sodas. However, the two flagship cola brands – despite popular Super Bowl ads – have lost some footing in the last year.
According to a July 23 Reuters report, Pepsi’s quarterly soda sales “fell 2 percent, as health-conscious consumers favored juices and health drinks.”
On July 22, Reuters noted, “Coke reported lower-than-expected quarterly revenue as sales volume in North America, its biggest market, was flat partly because of a decline in diet Coke sales. JP Morgan analysts had expected volume to be up 1 percent to 2 percent in North America, which accounted for 45 percent of total revenue in the second quarter.”
Like Cheerios and Budweiser, these two cola titans are victims of changing American tastes. Pepsi is working on craft soda, hoping to capitalize on the craft beer revolution, and both brands have pledged to reduce the amount of calories Americans are consuming from soda.
These moves show that Coke and Pepsi know that they have an image problem – I would say that this is an even bigger problem for Pepsi, which lacks the strong social media presence and brand identity of Coke. When big soda starts listening to consumers and making real change to the ingredients and amount of sugar in their products, then they will have something to crow about in a Super Bowl ad. until then, it’s just burning money.
Final Score: 2-8
The lack of effectiveness in Super Bowl advertising is just a symptom of the overall implosion of mass media.
“It’s impossible to get a large audience for anything anymore,” Garfield said. “Reach is evermore out of reach and the Super Bowl is one of a handful of live events that are the exception, that give you access to the good, old-fashioned live audience watching in real time. It is more valuable than it ever was before because there is really nothing left, so that’s why anybody is there. It’s the last chance grasp for a mass audience.”
Unfortunately, social media has made the big advertisements into background noise. Now, social media is the place where brands are defined.
This can be seen in the continual decline of some once-mighty brands which are also among television’s biggest advertisers: Pepsi, McDonald’s and Budweiser. These brands have been deemed to be unhealthy, low quality, and being dishonest about ingredients (especially in McDonald’s case) and have seen sales plummet in recent years.
Brands like these are still clinging to the golden era of advertising, when the brand that bought the most advertising was the winner. Think about how many Bud and McDonald’s ads you see everyday, yet these brands are struggling to appeal to young audiences. Today’s successful brands are upfront with their audience, brands like Chipotle, which is transparent about the sources of its ingredients.
Successful brands are also actively engaging audiences on social media. Doritos does this well. Budweiser does it atrociously, and no amount of ad spend is going to change that. Until some of these brands truly understand the brand-image issues that are actually affecting their sales, a Super Bowl ad is the equivalent of taking an aspirin for cancer – a losing proposition.