Super Bowl Ads: What makes them Sticky, or Not?

At $3.5 million per 30-second spot, even companies with deep pockets want to make sure their Super Bowl commercials capture attention – and increased sales. We may not have such sizable advertising budgets, but nonetheless there are some great lessons here on what grabs attention – and then sticks around in the days and weeks that follow. In their best-selling book “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die”, Chip and Dan Heath assimilate research from many fields and conclude that “sticky” ideas share six elements:

  1. Simple: The central idea is stripped to the essentials and quickly grasped – critical for a quick 30-second commercial or the first few seconds of a web page visit.
  2. Unexpected: We are hard-wired to ignore the expected and pay attention to anything different – an even tougher challenge with the many stimulations of the game itself, the half-time show and the banter in the viewer’s living room.
  3. Concreteness: The idea needs to appeal at the sensory, visceral level so our physical reaction cements the idea in our brains.
  4. Credibility: Does the idea seem plausible and trustworthy?
  5. Emotions: Fear, laughter, attraction turn on our brain.
  6. Stories: We can’t resist a great story, tend to stick around to the end, and are able to more easily retrieve it later.

So let’s look at a few of the Super Bowl ads and their potential stickiness. Audi 2012 Game Day Commercial – Vampire Party In this case the overall idea (a vampire party with a driver bringing a special blood delivery) is certainly unexpected with a story that sucks you in (no pun intended ;-) . But when the vampire party-goers start being vaporized, emotions turn from humorous anticipation to “huh?”. And then there is the issue of credibility – why would Audi headlights be any different than any other light source – and what do vampires have to do with anything anyway? Pepsi Max “Check Out” The story of a Coke Zero worker going through a check-out line with a Pepsi Max bottle is simple and unexpected. The acting and details add concreteness and lots of humor. The big risk here, though, is credibility or what brand the audience will remember. My son asked, who was reaching for chili at the start of the commercial, “Was that an ad for Coke Zero?” M&M “Sexy and I Know It” This was the favorite at our neighborhood Super Bowl party across all age groups. The story is simple, a party with some women being ogled at by some men, the facial expressions and dialogue adding concreteness to the scene. The unexpected punch line coupled with the music and dancing brought out roars of laughter from our audience. And if any indication of stickiness, the quote “I didn’t think it was that kind of party” came up several times throughout the evening. What Super Bowl ads do you think are sticky and why? Comment below or on our Facebook page.

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