Super Bowl ads show the axes of content effectiveness

Maybe you saw the football game last night. You probably noticed the commercials. Some were funny and sharable. Some were effective for the brand. But not that many were both.

If you talk about your product, you’re probably being boring. If you try to be funny or cool, you risk wasting effort, leaving the viewer mystified about what you do. Here’s a picture of what I mean:

axes of content effectiveness

Content that people love, but that makes you work for the brand message, is a pointless waste. In this case, that waste costs not just the $5 million that a Super Bowl ad costs, but the enormous creative effort. I’d put the Kia Optima ad in this category — you probably remember the beige socks and Christopher Walken, but the payoff is a guy driving a generic-looking car that might as well be beige.

The most effective content is fun and sharable because of the brand message — sharing the content means sharing the message. Three examples:

  1. Lawyers ruining a Drake song. Message: except for T-Mobile, everybody in mobile lies and breaks promises.
  2. Anthony Hopkins won’t sell out. Message: TurboTax Absolute Zero is free.
  3. Sheep sing Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” Message: there’s a speaker in the flatbed of the Honda Ridgeline pickup.

These may not have been the funniest ads, but they were pretty good, and they hit the brand message target. And they seem like a natural extension of the brand, as opposed to, say, the dreadful Puppy-monkey-baby.

Boring messages won’t spread. But work a little harder, as these brands did, and your message will lift your brand and spread, too. All it takes is an insane amount of creativity. You are creative, aren’t you?



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  1. Nice post, Josh. I was watching the game on a flight last night. When the puppy-monkey-baby ad came on, I instantly ripped my headphones off and averted my eyes in horror. As tasteless, I’d say, as the gerbils-being-shot-from-cannons Superbowl ad approx. 100 dot-com years ago.

  2. I found this year’s commercials a little underwhelming but love your take on ad effectiveness. I will admit that the Honda ad was one of my favorites for that very reason. As someone who love the outdoors (and buys pickups), I am excited about the truck bed audio option. But not nearly as excited as I am about singing sheep. Thanks.

  3. The Prius ad nailed speed, quiet, fuel economy and being desirable- and I hate Priuses. On brand, funny, told a story and clearly not in the typical fruit and nut buyer category. The Jeep ad with the fabulous photos was also appealing, showing heritage, acknowledging owners while be respectful and not idiotic. My two favorites.

  4. Unfortunately for KIA, they apparently do not know who they are. I don’t think there has ever been a more beige sock kind of car than a KIA sedan. And white??? What a waste of Christopher Walken. What a waste of money.

    The puppy-monkey-baby ad fell in the bottom left corner of your chart – definitely not shareable and definitely not moving the brand forward.

    I think the real winner was Budweiser paying Payton Manning to say during the postgame interview that he was gonna go kiss his wife and family and drink a bunch of Budweiser. Tied Budweiser to family, winning, celebration and Payton. – brilliant!!

  5. I personally LOVED the Car ID commercial… what a cool app to have. Kevin Hart was hilarious. “You picked the wrong daddy!” lol