In a comfy theater in New York’s Times Square, 45 Eagles and Patriots fans sat through a tense 2018 Super Bowl. They wanted different outcomes. Each wanted their teams to be the ones holding the trophy and planning the parade. They disagreed on whether Corey Clement and Zach Ertz really scored touchdowns for the Eagles. But they agreed on one thing: Those Tide commercials were funny. By the time Tide’s “Mr. Clean” spot ran in the 3rd quarter, the audience was primed and threw their heads back in laughter. Biometric devices on their left wrists recorded their emotional reaction in real-time. In this case it was hardly needed. This crowd was engaged in these ads and clearly loving them.
These fans were part of an experiment by Ipsos to rank Super Bowl commercials with biometrics. The experiment sought to measure the emotional intensity (in neuro-speak this is technically “arousal’) the audience felt watching every single ad – and incidentally every touch down and penalty and third-and-long situation. This is what market researchers call a non-conscious response and therefore differs from studies that ask participants what they thought about an ad after the fact. People might not be able to put into words what they felt, or their thoughts about an ad might change when they’re not “in the moment.” This methodology cuts through that.
Not all ads have the same objectives. Some aim to reinforce preference, some have a call to action, others hope to change perceptions. Super Bowl ads, however, are in a class by themselves. Super Bowl ads aim to excite. The way an ad “wins the Super Bowl” is by generating excitement. This makes the beginning of the ad (‘hook effect”), throughout the ad (“sustain effect”), at the end of the ad (“brand effect”) – – super important because that’s when the brand almost always gets shown and ultimately can take that excitement to great heights for the “max peak effect.” An aggregate of those benchmarks (The Ipsos Super Score) was calculated for each ad.
Ipsos measured nonconsious audience response by partnering with Shimmer Research to outfit the participants with hand devices that measured Galvanic Skin Response. Unlike most other Super Bowl commercial studies, the Ipsos research measured the ads in as normal an environment as possible, during the game itself. Snacks and beer were served. The audience was free to talk and text as they would if they were in a friend’s living room, assuming their friends had a very, large TV.
How Tide cleaned up
So why did Tide do so well with its mini-campaign? The first ad ‘primed’ people to the campaign, allowing future ads to build on previous emotional associations. Asked in isolation about one of the ads, viewers gave positive feedback, but that doesn’t capture the depth of positive emotion built through four quarters of anticipation and pay-off. In fact its likely that other ads benefited from the “Tide effect.” As one participant said, “Tide kept us on our toes. I kept thinking of Tide as I watched other ads!”
Tide paid for the same 90 seconds of air time as Amazon. While ‘Alexa loses her voice’ was a great ad, and indeed topped the USA Today AdMeter, it was only great for 90 seconds. The Ipsos study showed that the net effect of the campaign was much greater than the sum of its parts. Many of the other consensus picks earned high Super Scores, with the NFL ‘Eli/Odell’ ad coming in second place and Sprint, Jeep, Tourism Australia and Doritos/Mountain Dew all making the top 20.
A note of caution
Emotional intensity is an important metric, but it isn’t the only thing that matters in evaluating commercials. Bud Light may have missed out on the top 20, but they did a great job building saliency in the lead-up with their ‘Dilly Dilly!’ line—this will live on long after the Super Bowl has faded from memory, thanks to initiatives such as buying the city of Philadelphia a beer. Also, an ad for The Church of Scientology surprised some with its top 10 ranking. This was largely due, we suspect, to a surge of negative emotion. The Ipsos study measured emotional intensity, but not which particular emotion was stirred. However, the ad received the most negative comments in our post-survey questionnaire.
Also the Super Score doesn’t necessarily mean that the highest scoring commercials persuaded people to buy more Alexa’s or make more Ameritrades. Again, arousal is only one measure of an ad’s effectiveness. But it is does reflect if Super Bowl brands succeeded at getting an emotional rise out of people. These are the ads that stirred the senses, made people laugh, shocked them or left them highly entertained.
Here’s the rest of the top 20.