Budweiser Wins Super Bowl of Advertising Again. What Does Bud Get That Others Don’t?

As I pointed out in a previous Super Bowl post, my research found that the more complete story a Super Bowl commercial tells (in Five Acts) the higher the commercial performed in Super Bowl Ad Ratings Polls. We found that other factors like sex appeal, humor, emotion or animals didn’t matter. They appeared at the top and bottom of the polls with no discernible pattern. In Super Bowl XLIX the research held up again. Take a look at USA Today’s Ad Meter’s results, do some quick Five Act coding and you will see for yourself.

This year Budweiser again takes home the prize. They finished number one in the 2015 USA Today Ad Meter and other consumer Super Bowl Ad rating polls with “Lost Dog.” This was a sequel to last year’s top spot “Puppy Love.” View the spot below to see how it is a full Five Act story. But is it the dog that makes them a winner? Take a look at the top 10 spots in the poll. None of the other most likable commercials feature animals, but they all do tell complete Five Act stories.

Story may be more likable, but does it sell? Many who view and like the Bud spots say that is great, but this does it sell? According to a 2014 Beer Industry Report, Bud and Bud Light control 34% of domestic beer sales – more than any competitor. The closest is Coors Light with 10% and Miller Lite and High Life for another 10%. And despite increased growth, all the craft beers combined (Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Shiner, etc.) still only account for 8% of all domestic beer sales – 1/4 of Bud and Bud Light sales.


Who Fumbled in the Super Bowl of Advertising? Many did, but Carnival really missed the boat. They had a great complete Five Act commercial that they released before the game called “Get Away,” but for some reason choose to run another spot called “To The Sea” during the game. The spot they ran did not have story development. Instead it featured a JFK speech voice over with typical cruise ship imagery. I believe “Get Away” would have been a top 10 spot, but instead they finish at the bottom of the poll at 44. What do you think of the two spots?

Is there dramatic form? “Get Away” is a great complete story of a woman getting away from everyday life responsibilities and hassles. This has great action movie like drama drawing you in as she runs from the mob of life to the cruise ship at the end of the road. Will she make it? Yes and all is resolved as she swims in the ship pool with her family. A great relatable story in Five Acts. On the other hand, “To The Sea” is shots of a cruise ship with the JFK speech. There is really no character introduction, complication, rise in action, climax, falling action or resolve. This has Zero Acts. One Act if you consider JFK as a character in the story.

In a Blomberg article the creators of the Carnival spot said they wanted to reach people who never cruised. Which spot do you think does a better job?

What Makes A Super Bowl Ad Super? Five Act Dramatic Form.

When I was an advertising copywriter I had an intuition about what type of ads worked and which did not, but mainly I and many of my colleagues stumbled into them. Sometime we would have a hit and other times we missed the mark. This pressure to perform becomes intense this time of year as over 111 million people tune into to watch a Super Bowl match between the top NFL teams, but also to watch the TV ads.

The Super Bowl of Advertising

There are even advertising polls and show dedicated to which are the “best” ads. Being one of the best pays off in additional attention, views and buzz. The more buzz you get for the TV ad before and after the big game the more you are getting for the 4.5 million investment. It makes those 30 seconds go a lot further.

So what makes one ad more likable to finish in the top ten of USA Today Ad Meter versus the bottom ten? When I became a professor at Johns Hopkins University my research colleague Michael Coolsen from Shippensburg University and I asked ourselves that very question. Then we conducted a two-year analysis of 108 Super Bowl commercials to find the answer. Is it humor or emotion? Sex appeal or cute animals? What is the secret ingredient to helping ensure a Super Bowl commercial is liked and talked about?

Remember studying five-act Shakespearian Plays in high school? There was a reason Shakespeare was so popular and why he used to tell a story in five acts. It is a powerful formula that has drawn people’s attention for hundreds of years. Starting with Aristotle’s Poetics in 335 B.C., dramatic theory was first developed. Aristotle consider plot, having a beginning, middle and end, to be the most important element in drama – even more important than character. Much later, in 1863, German novelist and playwright Gustav Freytag developed his theory of dramatic structure advancing Aristotle’s to include a more precise five-act structure as seen below.

Freytag's Pyramid

We coded the over 100 Super Bowl ads in a two-year span for the number of acts developed in the commercial. Then we compared that number with the ratings number those commercials received in the top consumer Advertising Super Bowl Polls. After analysis we found a correlation between number of acts and higher ratings. In other words, the more acts in a commercial (a more complete story with a plot) the higher the ratings or likability. The results of the study were published in The Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice in the Fall of 2014. What about all those other factors like sex appeal, humor, emotion or animals? They didn’t matter. We found these variables all over. They appeared at the top and bottom of the polls with no discernible pattern.

Does story and likability sell? Likable ads are more likely to be viewed and shared multiple times increasing viral buzz and generating greater awareness. Other research has proven that online buzz increases ad recall, recognition and emotional response. The latest research claims a direct connection. Advertisers can buy consumer attention for those 30 seconds during the game, but when advertising hits social media, it is all about likability. People are drawn to and give their attention to story. Beyond Super Bowl ads where else have you seen story have an impact?

Keith Quesenberry Michael Coolsen

Was U2’s Free iTunes Launch The Year’s Biggest Brand Fail?

Adweek (Adfreak) has pronounced U2’s Songs of Innocence album release the number 1 brand fail of the year. It is very easy to nod your head yes after reading this, yet I challenge you to go a little deeper and determine what “brand fail” really means. I respect Tim Nudd’s point. Placing automatic download on 500 million people’s phones, whether they wanted it or not, did draw a backlash. I wrote about this U2 and Apple criticism when it first happened. Nudd says, “The criticism was swift and merciless, and Bono later admitted that his “beautiful idea” with Apple might not have been so beautiful after all. “[We] might have gotten carried away with ourselves,” he admitted in the understatement of the year.”
Was U2's launch really "the year's silliest, scariest and stupidest brand fail?"
Was U2’s album and tour launch really “the year’s silliest, scariest and stupidest” brand fail?”
This was a bold move and bold moves hardly ever go perfectly, but before we pronounce this the brand fail of the year let’s dig a little deeper. Think about the challenge of getting through the clutter, trying to keep an older band (sorry Bono, but you’ve been around for four decades) relevant and trying to reach new audiences. What is the objective of most advertising campaigns? To make everyone happy? I would say most brands want to sell product. In this case U2 wants to get their music out into the world and make some money doing it.
Irish Central presents another point to consider in their recent article “U2 Have the Last Laugh with Massive Sales of New Album.” iTunes reported this week that 26 million people have downloaded “Songs of Innocence” in its entirety since they released it at the beginning of last month – nearly double the 14 million who previously had purchased the group’s music through iTunes since it launched in 2003. Mark Farragher says, “I’d say the publicity stunt paid off as U2 achieves their ultimate goal: a global reach of their new music in this world of fractured attention spans with so many entertainment choices.” This article includes a different Bono quote, We were already annoying people, it was already divisive, it was already, ‘I can’t stand them, I want to kill them.’ It’s the job of art to be divisive.”
Before pronouncing the U2 album release a brand fail I also point you to another article recently published about their concert ticket sales. Live Nation reported that U2’s iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour 2015 was sold out in every city where it went on sale the same morning. They continue saying, “Following overwhelming fan demand, including a record-setting 118,000 fans queuing online to purchase tickets in New York, two new shows have been confirmed in New York, Chicago, Boston, Montreal, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Berlin & Paris.” If your objective is to keep a 40 year old band relevant and sell albums and concert tickets then it seems to be producing real business results.
Perhaps "free" was a brilliant strategy to "sales."
Despite the media clutter and some unhappy iTunes users perhaps “free” was actually a brilliant way to get to awareness and “sales.”
It may not have been perfect, but to pronounce this the biggest brand failure of the year may be an overstatement. What are your thoughts? Perhaps I am just seeing it through rose color Bono glasses because I am a U2 fan.