Watching the Super Bowl and the Super Bowl Advertisers

The 2014 Super Bowl didn’t offer much in the way of football, but it was an advertising extravaganza. Companies paid about $4 million for each thirty-second spot and then invested millions more producing high impact spots and creating elaborate social media campaigns.

Each year, a panel of MBA students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management evaluates all of the advertising. The group uses a six part framework to assess how each ad will do at driving sales and building the brand. The Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review is unique because the focus is on business impact not just creativity or humor.

Six Super Bowl Advertisers Received an “A Grade”


The Kellogg panel put VW in the top group of advertisers, and it is easy to see why. VW’s spot was creative and distinctive, featuring German engineers earning their wings when a VW reaches 100,000 miles. The ad had solid branding, broke through the clutter, and communicated a benefit: VWs last a very long time.


You don’t often see Microsoft at the top of advertising excellence charts. The company has struggled for years to create advertising that resonates with people.

This year Microsoft ran an emotional spot on the Super Bowl that highlighted how technology can change and improve lives. The ad featured a former NFL player suffering from ALS who uses Microsoft technology to speak.

The ad broke through the clutter, provided a benefit, and linked to the Microsoft brand. Most important, Microsoft defined itself on its own terms; gone are the comparisons to Apple.

Budweiser and Bud Light

The Super Bowl’s biggest advertiser finished at the top of the charts this year with strong creative from both Budweiser and Bud Light.

Budweiser stuck with safe creative. One spot featured the Clydesdale horses and puppies, and it was a broadly popular ad. It is hard to be against puppies and Clydesdales. The other ad celebrated veterans returning home. The creative won’t transform the brand but that clearly wasn’t the point; the goal of this work was to reinforce the brand imagery. With strong branding and engaging ideas both of these were strong ads.

Bud Light embraced a very different campaign. In two Super Bowl spots, the brand dramatized the idea of being ready for “whatever happens next.” The creative worked because it linked to the brand and tapped into an insight: young people love to be spontaneous and adventurous. Bud Light used an elaborate teaser campaign to set up the Super Bowl ads, and the final spot did not disappoint.


When you combine strong branding, engaging creative, and a credible benefit, you get a winning spot. Heinz followed this formula perfectly; it was impossible to miss that this was an ad for Heinz. The ad communicated a credible benefit: happiness. And the creative was engaging.


General Mills aired a simple, cute spot for Cheerios. The ad rose to the top because the branding was very strong and the creative broke through the clutter. It was endearing and product focused.

General Mills deserves credit for running the spot. In 2013, people attacked the company when it ran an ad featuring a bi-racial couple. The marketing executives at Mills didn’t pull the ad; they kept it on the air. And then they turned around and ran the same couple on the Super Bowl. This is an example of a company taking a stand for what it believes is right.


Butterfinger introduced its new peanut butter cup product with a Super Bowl spot. The ad won’t finish at the top of the popularity polls but it was distinctive and got the point across: Butterfinger has a new peanut butter cup product that is new and different from the category leader.

Super Bowl Advertisers Seek Expanded Impact

One clear takeaway from this Super Bowl is that the world of marketing has fundamentally changed. It isn’t enough to develop a clever spot. You have to take the idea and use PR and social media to expand the impact.

Still, the fundamental questions remain. Do you have a product benefit? Do people know what you are advertising? Is your target clear? Without a benefit a campaign will fall flat, regardless of the social media platform.

Great marketers have to navigate the new world without losing track of the fundamentals.|

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