Super Bowl Ads: What Research Tells Us About Winners and Losers

The week of the Super Bowl is an especially fun time for us here at Dialsmith. While we have our share of football fanatics here at the office, what really gets us jazzed is being able to put our own ratings tools to work to gather public opinion on the Super Bowl ads. We’ve been studying the Super Bowl ads using our Slidermetrix moment-to-moment ratings tool since 2012 and some interesting trends have emerged. So, what do these past results tell us about the winners and losers, and what does it mean for this year’s entrees? 

Before we dive in to that, a little background on Slidermetrix and how we’ve done our ratings. Using Slidermetrix, we’re able to embed videos of the ads on a website, each with an on-screen slider. Using a mouse or finger swipe, viewers move the slider left or right to provide continuous feedback as they are watching (You can give it a try here). So, in the case of the Super Bowl ads, viewers watch and continuously rate on a scale of 1 (Hate It!) to 100 (Love It!). As result, we get a real-time, second-by-second snapshot of each viewer’s opinion, providing a deeper level of data than what you get from a single rating tool (like the star or thumbs up/down ratings you typically see online). This is similar to our dial testing methods that brands use to vet and revise these ads during production.

Super Bowl ad rating with Slidermetrix  Super Bowl ad replay powered by Slidermetrix



The Slidermetrix rating slider collects continuous viewer feedback on a second-by-second basis. 

The data is displayed as colored lines overlaid on top of the video.

With a 30-second Super Bowl spot now costing $5 mil a pop, every second and every impression counts. So, our research geeky brains here at Dialsmith want to know which specific seconds are paying off for advertisers and which are not, and Slidermetrix delivers those second-by-second insights we’re looking for.

So, what has three years of Slidermetrix testing revealed about Super Bowl winners and losers? Here are some key takeaways:

Sentimental ads have ruled the day. Budweiser’s popular Clydesdale and Puppy spots have delivered our highest overalls scores and peak seconds over the past few years. Other ads like “A Hero’s Welcome” (also Budweiser) and Dove Soap’s “Real Strength” also received top marks. What do these ads have in common? They all tug at the heartstrings and have strong storylines that, in many cases, live beyond the 60- or 30-second spot.

(View final Slidermetrix results from last year’s Budweiser Lost Dog ad)

If you go funny, you better be funny. Funny ads are high risk, high reward. Those that are truly funny, like last year’s Fiat “Little Blue Pill” spot and the 2014 Radio Shack “The 80’s Called” spot, have hit some of our highest peaks during the punch lines, which have driven some top overall scores. But when the punch line flops, like in the case of the 2014 CarMax “Slow Clap” spot, so does the ad.

Star power on its own, can’t save the day. Some ads that have featured shining stars have fallen flat in our ratings. Kim Kardashian couldn’t save last year’s T-Mobile “Kim’s Data Stash” spot from itself nor could Jeff Bridges with Squarespace’s bizarre “DreamingWithJeff” spot. Both spots bottomed out early and never recovered.

And finally, ads that hit on serious issues can work but need to tread lightly. Ads like last year’s Always “Like a Girl” spot that lightheartedly poked at gender perception and equality issues scored one of our highest peak moments with both women and men viewers. While, at the same time, Nationwide’s now infamous “Make Safe Happen” spot, which warned about preventable accidents and featured a boy who died, hit near-record low scores.

(View final Slidermetrix results from last year’s Always Like a Girl ad)

So, what, if anything, do these results reveal about this year’s Super Bowl ads?

Advertisers tend to stick to formulas that work, so we expect to see more of the sentimental ads; dads were a big theme for sentimental ads last year, so maybe it’s mom’s turn?

We’ll see our share of funny ads again, but if history holds true only one or two will “work” and be memorable.

We’ll see some big stars make cameos again but less than before as brands move away from making one big splash and move more towards broader, holistic brand strategies, of which a Super Bowl spot is only one (albeit, a very expensive one) piece.

Expect to see more teaser ads released online (yes, it’s an ad about an ad) in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl to build buzz and interest for the real ad.

Finally, brands have evolved their Super Bowl ad strategies to leverage their air time (and multi-million dollar investments) during the Big Game to build buzz for much broader advertising and social campaigns, and we expect that to continue. Expect to see a growing percentage of ads that ask viewers to engage online either socially or to visit dedicated campaign sites to enter contests, watch videos of sequels or alternative endings, etc.

We’ll find out in a couple of weeks if our predictions are on target. Until then, check out our final Slidermetrix ratings report from last year. And follow us here on the Dialsmith blog or on Twitter for continued coverage of this year’s Super Bowl ads and updates on our Slidermetrix reporting.


Update: The 2016 Slidermetrix ratings results are in. Check them out here