USA Today's Super Bowl Ad Meter: A Pop-Culture Conversation in Itself

By Sports Unbundled Archives
Cover image for  article: USA Today's Super Bowl Ad Meter: A Pop-Culture Conversation in Itself

The USA Today Ad Meter has for 34 years answered the question, "What is this year's favorite Super Bowl commercial?" It's an organized pop-culture conversation in itself, and it captures through a poll what has long been discussed at water coolers and what is now often discussed on Monday morning Zoom calls. Here's my take on this year's results as a veteran marketer and now professor of sports marketing.

It seems that the results register "likeability." I agree that it's hard to grab attention, deliver a message and have an impact if your spot is not liked. Likeability is the key reason we saw so many (I mean so, so many) celebrities this year. Paul Rudd and Seth Rogan. Scarlet Johansson, Colin Jost and Anna Kendrick and her cast of toys and cute kids.

For the second year in a row, Rocket Mortgage took home the prize as the favorite Super Bowl commercial. Was it a Barbie Ad? Was it a Tide ad? No, it is a Rocket Mortgage ad (pictured at top)! From a messaging standpoint, the ad clearly communicated the value proposition of the Rocket Homes app, solving common problems faced by buyers in a sellers' market.

But I can't help myself. I look at ads through the standard of being memorable, meaningful and measurable. An entertaining ad leads to it being memorable. Meaningful logically links the content of the spot to the brand and directing the viewer to a desired outcome. And of course, each brand has its own way to measure effectiveness.

Although last place in the Ad Meter (i.e., least likeable,) the most easily measurable commercial was the Coinbase bouncing QR code. QR scans, website engagement, going deeper into the website, and ultimately opening an account on Coinbase are all able to be tracked and an ROI easily calculated.

In my class on Monday, this was the first ad that both my undergrads and MBAs mentioned. I was not surprised considering this comment came from a group of sports marketing students who have grown up with QR codes.

Like anyone else, I have my biases. I'm of Italian descent, grew up in New Jersey and am old enough to remember Sunday nights on HBO before Game of Thrones. So, my top ad goes to the remake of The Sopranos intro now featuring Tony's kids, Meadow and AJ (Jamie Lynn Sigler and Robert Iler.) "Woke up this morning" immediately got my attention. The journey through the tunnel onto the turnpike pulls you in and resonates with the target audience before the clear message, "The first ever, all electric, Chevy Silverado, a whole new truck for a whole new generation."

In my group for second place are three ads that did not rank in the Ad Meter's Top 10. "Sally's Seashells" featuring Zendaya was light and fun and offered a clear message: Use Squarespace and you'll sell more, have more opportunities, and become rich and famous.

Speaking of what a product can do for you … If Nissan can turn the quirky but funny and not very hip Eugene Levy into a bad-ass action hero, imagine what the car can do for you?

The Super Bowl has long been a resource for introducing new brands so you might ask: "What is FTX?" As the ad concludes, Larry David's guest states, "It's a safe, easy way to get into crypto." Crypto is the future -- but don't trust Larry David. He's funny but painful, annoying but hard to ignore and has been consistent on his analysis, as he missed on the wheel, the fork, indoor toilets and more. The ad used a similar approach: Use a celebrity to grab your attention, deliver a simple story and conclude with a clear message.

The Ad Meter has been around for 34 years not because public likeability is all that matters but because it advances a conversation about the commercials. I am not a fan of runner-up Amazon's "It's probably better Alexa can't read your mind." Is this tech so cool and so advanced that it may be able to read your mind? There are certainly concerns out there that Alexa is somehow capturing private conversations, so the commercial may remind you of said concerns rather than assuage them. Funny situations in the spot but risky.

No. 5 on the Ad Meter wasToyota and "Brothers." The McKeever Brother story is undoubtedly inspiring and new to most of us. But what does the concluding message, "Start Your Impossible," communicate about the brand or the product? Can you just slap a brand on any meaningful story and transfer the emotions from it? No. 6 was Lay's "Golden Memories" with Rudd and Rogan. It was a spoof, but Seth and Paul's golden memories were awfully dark. Whenever you are threatened or scared, don't worry … Lay's makes it better?

Of course, when I first read the results on Monday, I wanted to see who won. But before I compared the general public's view with my own analysis, what struck me were the scores. Rocket Mortgage and Barbie's Dream House received a 6.82, edging out the Amazon spot with a 6.77. In my rankings I gave the Silverado/Sopranos ad a 10, had three with a score of nine and twelve with a score of eight. My students should take note that I usually don't give away high grades that freely.

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