2024 Super Bowl Ads - Winners and Losers
Why the Catholic ad made my WORST list (even though I'm a devout Catholic) and why the most annoying ad made my BEST list.
For anyone new here, I’m the founder of Woo Punch, a brand consultancy rooted in evidence-based brand design. I write about the evidence that debunks brand purpose, differentiation, brand love, loyalty marketing, customer personas, color psychology, mission statements, customer engagement, AdTech, and “hustle culture.”
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THE SUPER BOWL COMMERCIAL MYTH
The most incredible Super Bowl ads are clever, emotional, funny, and inspirational.
We’ve all bought into this myth. But does it hold true, considering what we’ve learned about consumer behavior from marketing science, behavioral science, and advertising psychology? Was 2011’s VW ad “The Force” effective at selling VWs? Or is Temu’s annoying ad from this year a better (and more realistic) standard for advertisers to aspire to?
Which ads will help the brands being advertised sell products, and which ads might simply help the creative agencies behind them win awards?
THE 5 KEYS TO AN EFFECTIVE SUPER BOWL AD
I believe there are 5 keys to an effective ad based on the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute’s research into marketing effectiveness, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s research into behavioral science, and Robert Heath’s research into the psychology of advertising. These 5 keys are Distinctiveness, Consistency, Broad-Reach, Category Entry Points, and Attention.
Certainly, other factors can go into whether or not an ad is effective, but the following 5 keys should be the primary objectives of any effective ad.
Each key is not created equal so I gave them different weights. For example, if a Super Bowl ad is clever and funny (scores well in Attention), but the brand being advertised is lost in the mix (scores poorly in Distinctiveness), that ad will have a lower grade than a boring but well-branded ad. That’s because Distinctiveness is far more important than Attention.
You can read more detail about these keys in my Super Bowl article from 2022 but I will summarize them here.
To grade this year’s ads, as always, I assigned the following percentages to each key:
DISTINCTIVENESS - 65%
The first key factor for an effective Super Bowl ad is distinctiveness, and I estimate that distinctiveness accounts for up to 65% of an ad’s effectiveness. If an ad isn't strongly linked to the brand being advertised throughout using distinctive audio, thematic, and visual cues, it will essentially be a waste of money. We won’t know who was advertised.
Despite this, many brands sacrifice these cues in favor of emotional narratives, virtue signaling, or humor. Advertisers often treat ads like short films aimed at winning creative awards, not tools to sell products. This is a mistake.
CONSISTENCY - 20%
The second biggest factor for an effective Super Bowl ad is consistency. I estimate consistency accounts for up to 20% of an ad's effectiveness.
If the brand being advertised has never been advertised before, or the brand has consistently advertised, but its Super Bowl ad is dramatically different from all of its other ads, consumers will find it hard to link the ad to its correct brand.
BROAD-REACH - 8%
The third factor is broad-reach. As a whole, broad-reach is more important than consistency and sometimes even distinctiveness. I estimate that broad-reaching advertising channels account for as much as 80% of advertising effectiveness in some cases. But here, I'm grading content, not advertising channels.
As a result, I estimate that broad-reaching messaging or content accounts for around 8% of a Super Bowl ad's effectiveness relative to all other key factors. Instead of catering to a specific demographic or psychographic, Super Bowl ads should target all category buyers with their messaging and content.
CATEGORY ENTRY POINTS (CEPs) - 5%
The 4th most significant factor for an effective ad is Category Entry Points (CEPs).
Rather than differentiating your brand, you should try to tap into why consumers buy from your category in the first place before they even consider brands. Most consumers don’t perceive the differences between brands regardless of how hard a brand tries to highlight those differences. This approach can be futile as a result. By prioritizing CEPs the goal is to simply be considered in various buying situations.
Again, I explain this in more detail in my 2022 article.
While CEPs are extremely helpful, they take a lot of time and repetition to build. Because of this, I'm grading individual ads here without considering a brand's overall advertising, so I estimate CEPs account for around 5% of an ad’s effectiveness during stand-alone Super Bowl ads.
ATTENTION - 2%
Finally, attention is the least important (but still critical) key to an effective ad.
While marketing gurus and the general public think attention is the most essential key for a Super Bowl ad, attention is complicated and misunderstood. There are several types of attention and not all are good when it comes to advertising. High attention can even have a negative effect on sales. I estimate that attention accounts for around 2% of Super Bowl ad effectiveness.
My estimates for each key aren't an exact science, and there are additional keys that can be helpful that I don't discuss here, but I wanted to grade these ads on the most critical factors.
MY GRADES FOR THIS YEAR’S SUPER BOWL ADS
MY TOP 5 BEST
The Reese’s product and distinctive brand are skillfully woven throughout the ad, ensuring that viewers instantly recognize it as a Reese’s commercial.
The strategic cuts between scenes—alternating from screaming and cheering to other captivating moments—grab the audience’s attention and encourage them to look up from their screens for enough time to process the Reese’s bran assets.
Will Arnett’s recognizable voice has consistently reinforced brand familiarity for years now.
The ad is carefully crafted to resonate with a wide range of demographics. It avoids anything that might turn off specific groups, making it universally appealing.
While celebrities are often used in Super Bowl ads to create buzz and connect with audiences, celebrities are ill advised as spokespeople. Celebrities can never be exclusively associated with a single brand. Their multifaceted lives and aspirations extend beyond being mere brand spokespeople. When seeing a celebrity on their screens, viewers can easily mistake what they are seeing for a number of things other than your brand. Especially if that celebrity has more fame than most.
However, in the case of Reese’s, Will Arnett isn’t exactly an A-list celebrity and he serves as only the voice for the brand, not the face. This approach is much better as many people won’t recognize Will Arnett’s voice in the same way they will recognize his face.
For as long as Will Arnett is the voice of Reese’s and he never becomes controversial, this approach is working for now. Although it’s always better to have an unknown, yet distinctive, actor as your spokesperson like in the case of Flo from Progressive or Jake from State Farm.
If you are going to use celebrities in your ads (which isn’t advised; see weaknesses for the Reese’s ad above), you better smother them in your distinctive brand (assuming you have one). Dunkin’ does a great job of that here.
This ad might be one of the few genuinely funny ones of this year. Matt Damon balances out Ben Affleck’s over the top humor pretty nicely.
The broad reach here is limited. I would wager that Bostonians and those who dislike Bostonians won’t appreciate all the Boston references. Additionally, viewers like myself, who aren’t familiar with Ben Affleck’s love life, might miss the context.
I would have preferred the entire story to revolve around actual products rather than Ben Affleck and J-Lo’s relationship. The reference to “last year she came to my work” remains unclear for me and others like me. I’m assuming this is a reference to a previous news story?
Pringles benefits from a highly recognizable product shape and distinctive tube packaging. Their iconic logo and brand character complete the trifecta, making them an aspirational model for any brand.
In this Super Bowl ad, Pringles seamlessly incorporates their logo/brand character into the storyline.
Although Chris Pratt is currently the spokesperson, it’s doubtful that Pringles can sustain his use beyond this year. However, having an iconic and distinctive product shape, product packaging, and logo/brand character provides flexibility to occasionally feature celebrities.
Chris Pratt enjoys widespread likability, but there are some who have not appreciated his Christian beliefs in the past, and may get turned off by seeing him.
CeraVe faces an uphill battle due to its challenging name—which is hard to spell, pronounce, and is somewhat forgettable. The brand’s blue and white packaging (confusingly similar to Desitin, Triple Paste, Vaseline, Aquafor) compounds the issue. However, in a remarkable feat, CeraVe manages to reinforce its name’s spelling and pronunciation while injecting a touch of excitement—all within a single ad.
This was the funniest ad (in my opinion) of the year.
Imagine if Michael Cera committed exclusively to CeraVe, akin to the Geico Gecko—a legendary Distinctive Brand Asset that transformed Geico’s odd name into something memorable by associating it solely with their brand. Unfortunately, CeraVe won’t enjoy the same luck. Michael Cera is an A-list actor actively looking for TV and film work. His long-term commitment to CeraVe seems improbable unless he secures a substantial share of the brand’s profits. Additionally, the joke’s novelty will eventually wear thin. While brilliant in the short term, CeraVe must seek alternative strategies to maintain its distinctiveness.
Although most people my age (I’m 37) recognize Michael Cera, his star power has waned. Some viewers might just be confused.
While personally annoying, the ad’s jingle is a hidden gem. Jingles are often underrated, but when they stick in your head, they work wonders. Temu’s bold move prioritizes distinctiveness over mere attention, challenging conventional marketing strategies.
As a Chinese company, Temu doesn’t seem distracted by Western marketing norms like brand purpose, subtle branding, and celebrity endorsements. Instead, they flood our lives with their unmistakable orange color scheme and earworm jingle. Super Bowl viewers might not like it, but it works.
Temu’s omnipresence across various platforms throughout the year amplifies the impact of their Super Bowl ad, ensuring long-term resonance.
The ad’s annoyance factor may alienate some viewers, but fortunately, it doesn’t cross into dangerously irritating territory—it lingers subtly in the background.
While the jingle stands out, the animation style remains unremarkable. A more original and distinctive approach could have elevated the brand further.
MY TOP 5 WORST
Anthony Hopkins, a renowned actor, naturally draws attention. His presence ensures that viewers take notice of the ad.
The ad effectively communicates its Category Entry Point (CEP): “Drink our coffee to wake up.” Rather than overcomplicating differentiation, Stok positions itself as an additional coffee option for those seeking a boost. They don’t bother pretending they are “the only coffee brand that (fill in the blank with an imaginary differentiator).”
Anthony Hopkins’ fame spans generations, minimizing confusion or turn-offs solely based on his involvement. The ad, for those who aren’t turned off by its poor attempt at humor, won’t isolate potential customers.
The prominent VistaPrint logo is a very strange choice. Was this a co-branding effort? If it was, why wasn’t VistaPrint mentioned in the ad? Oh wait, is it co-branding with a soccer stadium? Am I supposed to know this soccer team as an American? I had to watch the ad 4 times to actually understand what was going on? How is someone supposed to get it at a Super Bowl party surrounded by friends and party noises? They simply try to do too much here.
Unfortunately, the humor fell flat. The overall execution lacked impact.
I’ve never seen an ad for Stok before. I do see them stocked on every shelf, however. If they could only combine that strong physical availability with mental availability to match, they could be unstoppable.
Stok’s generic brand didn’t introduce any new distinctive assets which could have helped the brand stand out more in future advertising. A missed opportunity to “distinctify” the brand broadly and quickly with an influx of viewers.
There is a very clear CEP here. This ad communicates that, when you are looking for cheap makeup, e.l.f. is an option.
The ad’s flashy content and multiple elements compel viewers to look up
e.l.f.'s name is unique, but their overall brand lacks distinctiveness. The minimalist design, although trendy, fails to stand out in a crowded marketplace. A missed opportunity to introduce new brand assets quickly and broadly.
Many viewers may not recognize e.l.f. as they haven’t seen their advertisements before.
The ad’s tone may turn off some viewers, and its appeal remains limited.
The ad successfully compels viewers to look up and notice its content.
It avoids isolating any specific audience.
The brand remains a mystery until the very end of the ad, potentially leaving viewers puzzled.
Apart from last year’s Super Bowl ad, there’s little visibility for this brand. To be memorable, they need more consistent advertising throughout the year.
Crowdstrike lacks any strong distinctive brand assets. Relying solely on the color red and their generic logo won’t suffice for long-term recognition.
As a devout Catholic who has personally used this app, I would have loved a stronger ad here. While there’s room for improvement, one commendable aspect is their focus on advertising during Lent, a significant season in the Catholic Church. During Lent, individuals who have drifted from their faith often return, seeking to give up something or engage in prayer after years of absence. I, too, have felt that pull during Lent, even when my church attendance was sporadic.
Mark Wahlberg praying will get people to look up.
Depending on the ad’s purpose, Hallow’s performance varies. If it aimed to encourage prayer, I’d give it a C+. For driving church attendance during Ash Wednesday or Lent, it earns a C. However, if the goal was Hallow app adoption, it receives a D-.
The ad narrowly targets individuals already open to downloading a prayer app or engaging in prayer. It lacks appeal for those not deeply committed to their faith. While it subtly reminds people of the Catholic Church’s existence, it lacks persuasive impact. Some may find it cheesy and off-putting. In contrast, the “Jesus Gets Us” campaign, while not in my top or bottom 5, better meets people where they are without overt proselytizing. Maybe Shia Labeouf (who’s now a Catholic convert and has been in better films) might have cut it. But only if the tone was radically different.
As a previous Hallow app user, I expected more emphasis on their purple color or their relatively distinctive icon style. Instead, the ad features a plain black screen with their white logo at the end. This was a missed opportunity.
While I commend Hallow for the Super Bowl ad investment, they’d benefit more by allocating their Super Bowl budget to consistent traditional advertising channels throughout the year. Relying solely on online ads and a Super Bowl spot follows the incorrect philosophy (held by the likes of Gary V and other false prophets) that traditional media is dead except for Super Bowl ads.
♫ Traditional media’s not dead, it’s surely alive. It’s living offline like a roaring lion ♫. Some of you will get that one ;)
While not particularly interesting, the ad may prompt some viewers to look up and pay attention.
The ad keeps viewers guessing until the very end, leaving them unaware that it’s an ad for Squarespace (or even a website builder in general). The sudden appearance of Martin Scorsese only adds to the confusion. What is he even doing here? Wait, he directed this thing??? It features none of his signature style, much less his talent. Is this just an excuse for him to show us his favorite black and white alien film and make insider jokes about New York City streets? And….now I’m thinking about Martin Scorsese. Not Squarespace. See the problem?
Allow me to leave you with the following PETA “Super Bowl ad.” PETA is calling it a “Super Bowl Ad” because aired live on YouTube during the game.
If this was a real Super Bowl ad (and not a PR ploy by PETA to call it one and get in the news for a bit), it would have clinched both my award for the worst Super Bowl ad of 2024 and the funniest (despite PETA’s intentions).
Did you catch that she was going to use YELLOW cheese to make a pizza??? Is PETA so out of touch with everyday people’s eating habits that they’ve never seen a pizza before??? I digress.
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