Key Super Bowl Ads Demonstrate the Importance of Context

By March 31, 2015 No Comments

In 2015 the Super Bowl game raked in record-breaking numbers of viewers, with even higher ratings than previous years, 114.4 million viewers in 2015, up from 112.2 million the year before. During the Super Bowl, the commercial plays a unique role in the viewing experience where the advertising break – once an annoyance to viewers – is a star performer, alongside the half-time show and the game itself. In fact, RealityMine data reveals that 16% of American Super Bowl viewers found the commercials to be the most enjoyable aspect of their viewing experience.

Following Super Bowl XLIX in February of 2015, RealityMine conducted a study into the perceptions of Super Bowl commercials among Americans who viewed the big game. Focusing on four key brands whose ads were featured during the Super Bowl commercial breaks, we have analyzed opinions and perceptions from those exposed to the ads during the big game.

superbowlRadialCharts-01 The chilling domestic violence ad that made viewers listen is, in it’s own words a ‘public awareness and engagement campaign, focused on ending domestic violence and sexual assault’. Their 60 second Super Bowl ad was the first of its kind to be featured during the game, with a pressing social message to its audience, of advocacy, change, prevention and support. While this ad may have had lower reach of exposure compared to other brands, the importance of their message was heard loud and clear above other advertisers.

RealityMine’s analysis revealed that NoMore undoubtedly succeeded in portraying their message to the entire Super Bowl audience. The frequency of people who noted a change in their opinion of the importance of the brand was higher than any other brand advertising seen by Super Bowl fans. In fact, 20.5% of viewers acknowledged that their perception of the brand’s importance had changed following exposure to the ad – that’s almost double the percentage of people who claimed that their opinion was not altered by the ad.


BMW’s ‘newfangled’ idea gets a big laugh

BMW’s Super Bowl commercial increased perceptions of brand prestige among viewers, more so than their competitors ads.

The ad in question harkened back to a vintage clip of Today Show TV anchors, Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel’s confusion of the concept of the Internet back in 1994. Fast-forward to 2015, and Couric and Gumbel have now progressed to marveling at the technology behind the new, electric BMW i3. Specifically, viewers of the ad during the Super Bowl game found the ad enjoyable and trusted it’s content, this is undoubtedly a success for BMW.

In terms of influencing consumer opinions on prestige, this commercial from BMW certainly achieved. The luxury motor brand beat their competitors, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus, with 17% of Super Bowl viewers considering the commercial to increase perceptions of brand prestige. Interesting to note is that Chevrolet’s ad also scored high with regard to prestige, above Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.


How ‘Pay with Lovin’’ paid off for McDonald’s

McDonald’s first Super Bowl ad in 8 years boosted consumer opinions on the affordability of the brand.

McDonald’s took this opportunity to build on their classic “I’m Lovin’ it” campaign through a tear-jerking ad celebrating positivity and love. The ad revealed that between the 2nd and 14th of February, random customers will be given the opportunity to pay for their McDonald’s meal with Lovin’; hugs, selfies, calls to loved ones, high fives etc…

McDonald’s message was simple and positive and our data indicated that this resonated with Super Bowl viewers. The majority of viewers (31%) enjoyed watching the ad, 21% stated that it made the brand ‘more appealing’. Moreover the fast food giant killed two birds with one stone, not only enforcing a message of “Lovin’ It” but also reinforcing consumer perception of affordability (26% of SB viewers claimed that the advert improved their perceptions of McDonald’s affordability).


Nationwide’s ‘Make safe happen’: Necessary or buzzkill?

Nationwide’s Super Bowl commercial had the most negative impact on purchase behavior, compared with all other brands who advertised during the Super Bowl. More than 10% of Super Bowl viewers who saw the ad stated that they would be less likely to purchase from the brand.

Nationwide’s primetime ad sparked fierce controversy and discussion; it featured a young boy reflecting on all the important milestones that he will miss in his life, as he is talking from the other side, so to speak. The ad ends on the message of “a large number of childhood deaths are preventable.” There is no doubt that Nationwide had good intentions and that their ‘Make Safe Happen’ campaign is backed by very real and shocking statistics of childhood death caused by preventable accidents.

In the weeks that followed the Super Bowl, there were many questions about the appropriateness of this ad. Was their choice to air the ad during the biggest sporting event of the year the best opportunity to share this message? Did their ‘sadvertising’ prompt parents to take action or did it enrage? The ad’s message was certainly heard by viewers but is even negative conversation effective in advertising?

In RealityMine’s research following the Super Bowl, we found that of all people who recalled the Nationwide ad, 10.6% would not purchase from the brand. Compared to all other commercials seen by Super Bowl viewers, Nationwide’s ad had the most negative impact on purchase intent. However the long term impact to the brand of both the ad and the conversations afterward is still unknown.

What we can learn:

As we look at the impact that the commercials from these four brands had on consumer perceptions among Super Bowl viewers we have formulated three key take home points for ad planners and brands to take note of:

1. Ads are received best when they mirror audience mood – The Super Bowl is an annual event, one that is almost considered a national holiday by a large portion of Americans. It’s a time to socialize and celebrate. The build up to the big game by advertisers, brands and media is substantial and RealityMine’s data evidences that levels of excitement are significantly higher among viewers than those who do not view the game. In keeping with the hype of the event and the excitement that surrounds Super Bowl, it makes sense that brand messages are in keeping with the collective mood of American viewers. McDonald’s and BMW’s commercials both communicated positive, entertaining messages to their audience, this could explain why these ads were considered to be the most enjoyable and why we saw an increase in the appeal of the brand.

2. Hard-hitting messages can still be communicated but knowing your audience is critical! –Nationwide and’s ads both featured important, serious messages that reflected hard-hitting societal issues within America… so what made viewers more receptive to NoMore’s message than Nationwide’s?

  • Nationwide is an insurance company, consumers may assume the number one priority for such a large financial organization will be raking in the dollars – not your child’s safety. A shocking ad like Nationwide’s may have been perceived as a distasteful sales tactic. Their message could have been better communicated in a more subtle way, and not on the night of the biggest annual American sporting event.
  • In contrast, is a charitable organization, advocating awareness of domestic and sexual abuse. NoMore’s commercial was clear and powerful, but not too obvious as to negatively affect younger viewers. It depicted the issue of violence subtly, without graphic imagery and it is unlikely that the intentions of the ad were misconstrued as Nationwide’s might have been.

3. America is changing and looking for more positive social messages – Super Bowl advertisers that brought with them a social message during 2015’s Super Bowl commercial slots faired particularly well in terms of changes to viewer’s perceptions of brand importance. As visualized in the above infographic,, Always, Weight Watchers, McDonald’s, Dove Men + Care and Nationwide all ranked within the top 10 ads for inducing an altered perception of brand importance among Super Bowl viewers – each these commercials carried with them a message of social importance and the messages were clearly received.