What Makes a Super Bowl Ad Work

What Makes a Super Bowl Ad Work

Following a 2017 game big on political and cultural statements, Super Bowl LII brought the laughs. What was the recipe for success this year? Get talent with wide appeal to deliver a simple message in an unexpected way.

We’re breaking down a few of this year’s standout ads to figure why they worked as well as they did.

Doritos vs. Mountain Dew

Everything in the spot has a contrast. Hot and cold. Snack and drink. Dinklage and Freeman. PepsiCo, parent company of both Doritos and Mountain Dew, brought in familiar faces to showcase lip-syncing skills that surprised and delighted viewers. The contrasting elements make the spot memorable and by doubling their investment with back to back ads, they more than doubled their impact.


Tide certainly got the most bang for their buck. After a dozen different set ups, one simple question (“Does this make every Super Bowl ad a Tide ad?”) kept the product top of mind for viewers during each commercial break. Not only did they successfully parody a long list of advertising tropes, they snuck in some love for their P&G sister companies Mr. Clean and Old Spice. Spokesman David Harbour is famous enough to look familiar to some viewers but charming enough to be endearing to the rest.

Amazon Alexa

Amazon reinforced a fundamental principle of advertising – decrease pain or increase pleasure. Talking to real people filling in for Alexa? Painful. Talking to Alexa? Pleasurable. It reminds the viewer what they like about the product and, by comparing her to real people, almost makes Alexa seem real too. Bonus: Great use of celebrities with a range of demographic appeal.

Each of these spots were put together by major corporations with money to spend. This year, a 30 second spot in the national broadcast cost over $5 million. And that’s just for the air time. Each of the brands we discussed bought anywhere from 60 to 100 seconds. Combine those numbers with production costs and talent fees and this kind of Super Bowl ad get expensive fast.

That doesn’t mean the Super Bowl is out of reach for smaller companies. Take our TaxAct spot from 2012. We followed the same principle that made the Doritos/Mt. Dew, Tide and Amazon ads work: dissonance. Set up the spot to go in one direction then pay it off with something unexpected. In our case, a little kid gets out of the pool to pee but, after a frantic search for somewhere to relieve himself, ultimately jumps back in the pool. If you have the right idea, you don’t need to hire Gordon Ramsay to make it work.

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