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Did This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Move the Ball with Consumers?

We used our method to analyze this year's matchup commercials, focusing on emotional connections that drive consumer decisions, identifying trends with standout brands

In football, as in advertising, the results of this year’s biggest matchup are in. Of course, the football game was a nail-biter to the very end. But did that excitement bleed over to the commercials?   

Considering brands often spend 25% or more of their annual budgets on just one ad in the “Big Game,” we at the strategic marketing consultancy sooth used our patent-pending, scientific method to look beyond the ad’s pomp and circumstance—often associated with the Big Game’s ads—to score each commercial for the emotional connections that drive consumer decisions.  

The sooth method isolates only 10 Emotional Elements that drive 70% of all consumer decisions: Purpose, Confidence, Self-Image, Expression, Fun, Freedom, Wellness, Doing Good, Community, and Security. Using its proprietary interpretive process, AI, and deep data, sooth identified the top three Elements for each consumer category for this year’s ads. From there, a score was given to each ad from 0 -30.

Throughout the scoring process, five overall trends were identified across all categories: genuine emotionsinclusion“Find the Product”meta, and QR codes.                                                                                                                      

  • Top-scoring brands balanced relevant messaging with the genuine emotions that drive purchase behavior in their category. Whether for laughs, tears, or inspiration – they delivered authentically for the brand and those who buy it. 
  • Inclusion was a significant theme--but some (NFL, Remy Martin) successfully made it central to their brand story, whereas others seemed to be more culture-washing.
  • Find the Product” became an accidental interactive game for many of this year – from Doritos to Crown Royal, and web services brands Workday and Squarespace. If you didn’t love these brands before, their ads didn’t advance the cause.
  • Self-referential (“meta”) concepts consistently scored low for consumer resonance, focusing more on cleverness (or for Molson Coors, squeezing three brands into one:30 spot) than connection with consumers.
  • QR codes were everywhere and were more of a distraction for the consumer than a convenience.

Six brands delivered emotional resonance at an elite level: 

T-Mobile – The John Travolta collaboration received a perfect 30 out of 30 sooth score, perfectly delivering on the three Emotional Elements that most drive consumer tech purchases: Freedom, Confidence, and Fun.  

NFL – This spot scored across the Elements of Fun, Expression, and Freedom most critical for entertainment brands, with an inspiring and unexpected handoff to women as the future of football.

United – The airline leaned into recent events, taking a timely swipe at bargain competitors– delivering solidly on all three Travel category Emotional Elements: Freedom, Security, and Community.

Avocados from Mexico – Anna Faris stars as Eve in the Garden of Eden, as the brand imagines a healthier and decidedly more fun alternate reality had Eve chosen an avo over the infamous apple. It scored on all three key Emotional Elements - Freedom, Wellness, and Self-Image – while pushing its nutritional message. 

PopCorners – In a battle of widely hyped salty snack campaigns, the mini-episodes of Breaking Bad from the cult classic’s original creators and stars scored across the key Elements of Fun, Freedom, and Wellness. 

Bud Light – As the entire beer category shifted towards inclusion and wellness, Bud Light transformed from party fuel to relationship material, giving consumers the Self-Image, Fun and sense of Community they want when reaching into the beer aisle. And like other winners, the brand used its celebrity talent in relatable ways for its audience. 

Less successful brands made irrelevant use of celebrity talent. GM showed us that Will Ferrell loves Netflix, but their commercial for electric cars failed to deliver on any of the critical emotions that drive category sales. Similarly, Pepsi Zero Sugar confused consumers as to whether Steve Martin and Ben Stiller even liked the product. Hellmann’s delivered a campaign that prioritized celebrity name puns over anything that drives grocery aisle decisions. By scoring low for every vital Emotional Element that determines consumer decisions within their categories, sooth predicts these spots will not move the needle for their brands. And at a time when consumers are more money-conscious now than in the past decade, TurboTax chose humor and frivolity, failing to deliver what matters most to consumers in this category: trust.

Lowest-scoring on our rankings of 46 spots:

  • The confusing corporate amalgam of Coors Light, Miller Lite, and Blue Moon, failed to deliver on consumer emotions while competitors Bud Light and Busch Light rose to the occasion.
  • M&M’s. The venerable candy brand, the subject of much public debate over their spokescandies controversy, delivered more confusion than satisfaction. Their “troll the trolls” strategy may have inspired a narrow population segment but failed to deliver on the Fun and Freedom messages that matter most to category shoppers. 

It does appear some brands are more tuned-in to their customers’ emotional needs than others and should be able to ride the momentum of their multi-million-dollar ad investment. More will need to rely on the other 364 days to give consumers what they want, expect, and need. Given the unstable state of numerous economic and political factors defining American life in 2023 – keeping on top of these moving targets may be the most significant determinant driving consumer preference and positive behavior in the rest of the year ahead.