Super Bowl Ads: Hits and Misses

February 2, 2009 9:46:14 AM PST
With the economy in a slump, it's no surprise that advertising spots for Super Bowl XLIII sold at a slower pace than previous years and several big players chose to sit out the big game. Despite the downturn, however, many perennial advertisers were back. And even those who aren't football fans were eager to see this year's advertising lineup. At $3 million for a 30-second spot, the stakes are especially high for marketers at this year's Super Bowl ? and 140 million viewers were expected to tune in on game day to see the hits and misses.

For the fifth consecutive year, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University organized the Kellogg School Super Bowl Advertising Review. Marketing faculty and members of the Kellogg Marketing Club convened in Evanston. Watching the game was secondary, to keeping an eye on the commercials. They rated the advertisers to produce a final ranking of the most ? and least ? successful advertisers from this year's Super Bowl.

Employment Web site earned top marks for its "Need a New Job?" ad, winning the fifth annual Kellogg School of Management Super Bowl Advertising Review. The Super Bowl lineup reflected the country's economic woes, as some perennial advertisers such as FedEx and GM elected to sit on the sidelines this year, and other advertisers created ads that referenced competitors or communicated value.

"This year's Super Bowl featured hard-hitting advertising. We had spots with value messages and competitive claims, both of which are unusual in the Super Bowl," said Kellogg School of Management clinical professor of marketing Tim Calkins, who leads the annual review. "Super Bowl advertisers were clearly trying to drive sales in a soft economy. The game continues to be the single biggest marketing event in the United States, but this year we saw the impact of the weak economy." earned the title of champion from the Kellogg School Review panel, edging out fellow "A" grade advertisers including competitor, Doritos, E*Trade and Denny's. In the battle of employment Web sites,'s strong showing bested CareerBuilder, which rebounded from a weak showing in last year's Super Bowl with a relevant, entertaining spot.

The Kellogg School panel had significant strategic concerns about spots from SoBe Lifewater, H&R Block,, Vizio and Toyota. Although the 3D experience was intriguing, the Kellogg panel was underwhelmed with the SoBe Lifewater "dancing lizard" spot; the panel noted that the overall messaging was confusing, especially with the addition of characters from motion picture "Monsters Vs. Aliens."

Assistant professor of marketing Derek Rucker, who also leads the Review, noted, "Consumers don't have the capacity to remember more than a handful of ads long-term. The ultimate Super Bowl success is when a consumer not only remembers your brand, but is called to action by your ad's message."

At $3 million dollars for 30 seconds of airtime, the investment appeared to pay off for the panel's top winners, as well Hyundai, whose Genesis ad scored well due to strong branding. For others, including annual favorite Anheuser-Busch, who ran the most ads during the game, the year's environment appeared to present challenges.

Unlike other reviews, which may rank ads on likeability alone, the Kellogg School of Management Super Bowl Advertising Review uses a strategic academic framework known as ADPLAN. The acronym, developed by Kellogg faculty, instructs viewers to grade ads based on Attention, Distinction, Positioning, Linkage, Amplification and Net equity.

For the complete ranking and more information, visit and