Shakespeare Predicts Super Bowl Commercial Winners: Research Shows Sex And Humor Aren’t The Key, It’s Story

This year marketers are paying a record $4 million for a :30 second Super Bowl ad to reach a record of over 111.3 million viewers. Yet, for that money it’s not enough, advertisers need their ads to go viral. Knowing what makes a Super Bowl ad buzz worthy is important in this high stakes marketing event. There are a lot of predictions and theories out there, but research my colleague and I conducted found that the underbelly of a great commercial is whether it tells a story or not.

What does William Shakespeare have to do with Super Bowl Commercials? Our two-year analysis of 108 Super Bowl commercials found a significant relationship between dramatic form and favorability in consumer Super Bowl ad rating polls such as USA Today’s Ad Meter and The research pulls from Aristotle’s Poetics and “Freytag’s Pyramid” five act plot structure popularized by dramatist such as Shakespeare to reveal the power of story.

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A 5-Act Story Following Freytag’s Pyramid is The Secret to Super Bowl Ad Success.

According to Freytag, a drama is divided into five parts called acts, and these acts combine to form a dramatic arc: Inciting Moment, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Moment of Release. We found that consumer ratings were significantly higher for commercials that follow a full five-act dramatic form compared to commercials that did not. Additionally, the more acts commercials had (3 versus 2) the higher the ratings.

Based on this analysis and advancement of narrative theory, my prediction for this year’s Super Bowl ad winner will be Budweiser’s Puppy Love. Viewers favor ads with dramatic plot lines. Plot is what Aristotle emphasized in Poetics as early as 335 BC.

The power of story has already drawn 30 million views on YouTube and significant press coverage for “Budweiser Super Bowl XLVIII Commercial — ‘Puppy Love'” two days before the actual game and official airing of the spot.

“What Makes A Super Bowl Ad Super for Word-of-Mouth Buzz?: Five-Act Dramatic Form Impacts Super Bowl Ad Ratings” is being published Fall 2014 in the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice. The more complete a story marketers tell in their commercials the higher it performs in the ratings polls, the more people like it, want to view it, and share it.

What are your predictions for Sunday’s Super Bowl ad winners?

Super Bowl Ads: A Unique Opportunity for Undivided Attention

As we watch this year’s Super Bowl of football and advertising, there is a big lesson we can learn from this high priced marketing spectacle. A poll reported by MarketingProfs says more of us would rather visit the bathroom during the game than the commercial breaks. The same poll says the commercials beat out the game, halftime show and even food as our favorite part of the Super Bowl.

This kind of undivided attention is amazing in our current cluttered advertising environment where some claim we see 5,000 ad messages a day. And even when watching TV, a Harris Interactive survey reports people also surf the Internet, read a book, magazine or newspaper, go on a social networking site.

Why are people surfing the Internet, reading books and engaging in social media? They’re searching for content they want to see and during the Super Bowl marketers who pay the $3.8 million manage to give them just that. MarketingProfs reports people say Super Bowl ads are funnier, more creative and more memorable than regular ads. And people watch them again online, share them via social media and even email links to them.

Despite these successes many marketers and bloggers write off Super Bowl ads as being not effective in selling products. But it’s hard to pass up the 180 million viewers – top prime time shows now only attract viewers in the hundreds of thousands. And Kantar Media claims last year’s game produced sales of $262.5 million for the advertiser while Abobe says Super Bowl sponsors get a 20% increase in traffic on their websites the day of the game and higher than average traffic after.

Whether you buy a Super Bowl ad or not, the lesson here is that people like quality content whether its an ad, TV show, game or video.This is the key insight to success for marketing in social media. You don’t buy attention, you attract it with quality content. without the huge media expense. For the most part, marketers are not used to thinking this way.

The bottom line is people choose to spend time with quality content and successful Super Bowl advertisers are acting more like content producers – creating the kind of ads that keep people in their seats. Perhaps the rest of us marketers should start thinking like this all the time. Maybe the best way to beat ad clutter is to stop trying to push and instead pull the consumer to you.