This post was written by Neil Basu, a Latitude alum. 

While the NFL Playoffs and the Super Bowl are behind us now, we’re revving up another type of championship with our Super Bowl Great Ad Playoffs which features 20 of the best Super Bowl ads from the past 5 years. We’re leaving it up to the people to decide—asking a diverse group of viewers to evaluate the contenders in our video evaluation suite, Lumière™, by assigning ratings and comments to the ads as a whole as well as to specific features of the ads. As researchers, our goal is to understand not only which ads are great, but why they’re great—shedding light on best practices for brands, agencies and content creators.

Screenshot of data via the Lumiere application

The Ad Playoffs: Round 1

Last week, we faced-off the top 5 ads each year from 2010-2013. These ads were chosen by reviewing multiple sources (including for consensus about which truly stood out from the pack. Individual match-ups were randomized by year. Winners were determined by how they fared across three key metrics:

  • Overall enjoyment
  • Memorability
  • Shareability

Our participants were 300 U.S. residents with at least some Super Bowl interest, ages 18-54 with an equal gender split.

Here’s how the contenders fared:

(To view the ads referred to in this graphic, see the links at the bottom of the page.)

ads bracket-new-sized

Select Takeaways from Round 1: What Worked, What Didn’t

  • Products should either solve problems or create them. Competition or tension between two sides, either resolved or exacerbated by the product, was a theme common amongst all winners from this round. (For example, Snickers soothes while Doritos escalates the tension.)
  • Be explicit—and be remembered. When it came to making a lasting impression, focused messages almost always won out. That doesn’t mean advertisements need to go light on creativity; it just means they need to make sure the point comes through loud and clear. (For example, KIA’s “Puppet Joyride” is just that, and it ultimately backseats the brand’s message.)
  • Not all humor is created equal. Ads that tended to do well leveraged a specific brand of humor—and it wasn’t necessarily brainy, or based on pop culture, or of the bathroom variety. This brand of humor relied on simple scenarios where a character’s behavior was exaggerated or ironic. (For example, in Doritos’ “Play Nice,” a small child warns his mother’s suitor to keep his hands to himself; and in Coca-Cola’s “Border,” two border patrol officers on opposing sides abandon their angst to share a coke.)
  • Funny doesn’t always come in first. There’s no doubt that humor tends to be a crowd-pleaser, but what about going other routes? Good storytelling that resonates on an emotional level can conquer comedy. (For example, Budweiser’s “Clydesdales” ad performed the best out of all the contenders in this round—and did so with a heart-warming, easy-to-follow narrative.)

In the coming days and weeks, we’ll be posting results from the quarter-finals, the semi-finals, and the championship to determine the winner of the past half-decade. We’ll also be providing more in-depth insight into the psychology behind ad preferences and the most effective creative elements.

Next, this round’s winners will face off against the best Super Bowl ads from 2014:

View Super Bowl ads from the current round: