Finally: 2012 Super Bowl Ad Neuro-Rankings


2012 Super Bowl - Neuro-ranking of Ads
Sands Research: Ranking of 2012 Super Bowl Ads

Every year, we look forward to how the Super Bowl ads stacked up from a neuromarketing standpoint, courtesy of Sands Research. It’s taken a little longer this year, but the results are in!

Pepsi Dominates

One company, Pepsi, swept the top two spots this year. Their “Kings Court” and “Pepsi Max Checkout” ranked #1 and #2, with the Kings Court spot scoring well above the rest of the pack.

VW Fails to Three-Peat

In 2010, Volkswagen’s “Punch Dub” ad took the top spot, and in 2011, their “The Force/Little Darth Vader” ad not only took the top spot but set the highest neuro-engagement scores that Sands had ever recorded. This year, VW placed a respectable fourth with “The Dog Strikes Back.” I had wondered whether the Star Wars “bar scene” tacked onto the end of this year’s dog commercial, a slightly obscure reference to “The Force” from last year, would confuse viewers; apparently, the ad didn’t suffer because of that.

How Sands Ranks the Ads

Sands uses a combination of EEG measurement of brain activity, eye tracking, and biometrics to measure the engagement and emotional impact of each ad. The rankings produced are based on their proprietary algorithms. (Other neuromarketing measurement and analysis techniques might produce different results.)

Watch the Brain Movies

[Updated with movie link] You can view the entire list of ad rankings here: Sands Super Bowl Ranking for 2012. You can access the “brain movies,” which show brain activity in conjunction with the commercial playing in real time, here: 2012 Top 5 Ads – Brain Movies.

  1. A. Davis says

    I wonder if they have the ability to differentiate between positive and negative emotions? I remember the “Pepsi King’s Court” spot producing a very visceral reaction, but it was more along the lines of ‘I feel sick for having to sit through such an advertising abomination.’ (And, if I remember correctly from reading the post-Super Bowl commercial commentary, many reactions were the same). While an ad may produce increased neurological stimulation, it may not be for the right reasons.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      The precision of determining an actual emotion (vs. magnitude of response) is an ongoing controversy, A. Davis. Neuromarketing firms generally claim to be able to differentiate between negative and positive.


  2. Rezwan says

    Which one is the “Brotherhood of Man” ad? I thought that was great.

  3. Ron Wright says

    Rezwan – Since the Brotherhood of Man ad ran in the Super Bowl Pre-Show programming, we did not include it in the 68 tested. As you can understand, we focus only on testing all 68 spots presented during the actual Super Bowl Game.

    A. Davis – Yes if you look at the graph on the lower left hand side of the screen in our “brain movie” you will find emotional valance, both positive and negative, that is time synced with the advertisement / EEG and eye-tracking. No doubt the Pepsi King’s Court ad drops into the negative emotional response zone (and so did the VW Little Darth Vadar spot last year) during the storyline but overall the ad remained an engaging commercial that viewers watched closely. And then it has a nice positive pop at the end when Elton drops through the floor to meet Flavor Flav.

    No doubt the goal is a highly engaging, highly positive emotional response (especially during key branding moments) ad which will “stick” into long term memory of the viewer. However, that is the true creative challenge and where copytesting services like ours at Sands comes in. Deutsch LA has done some of the best work and is well schooled in understanding cognitive neuroscience. Over the past three Sands Super Bowl Rankings their spots for VW came in 1st in 2010; 1st and 4th in 2011; and 4th in 2012 (probably would have been first if they didn’t screw up the ending storyline of The Dog Strikes Back). This is why Volkswagen was just handed the CLIO for Global Advertiser of the Year and why sales for the Passat (i.e. Little Darth Vadar ad) zoomed in 2011.

    Ron Wright
    President / CEO
    Sands Research Inc.

  4. Don Metznik says

    Ron, really interesting data and a fun way to engage people with neuromarketing. I’d like to use the research in one of my posts but need to understand the scale. Please explain. Thanks.

  5. Alex K says

    As the others have mentioned it would be of great help to connect the results with more specific data i.e what makes such a huge difference between the first and the last ad’s.

  6. Hank Baxter says

    I would have thunk that GoDaddy commercials would have done well. On previous SuperBowls I really liked the VW commercials with the German engineers smashing up pimp-ride cars. I’ll bet my neurological stimulation level when into high gear when I fell on the floor spasming with laughter. But perhaps I don’t understand how it works.

  7. Samuel says

    One not-so-scientific reason why the King’s Court ad pulled in the most attention? I wasn’t sure if I was watching Beowulf or The Hunger Games. Very nice visuals. Then, of course, there was the big question: “What’s going on here?” So, most of us had to sit there and find out what. Then we got a great song to bop our heads to. We love those belt-out tunes. Then there was Elton John and X-Factor’s Melanie Amaro. Pepsi really pulled it together on that ad. Well-deserving of the top spot. Best part? Probably the intro. They were really channeling the “American Idol” vibe right there.

  8. Ron Wright says

    Thanks Dan and Alex –

    Sorry for the delayed response. You can find the details on our Neuro Engagement Score (NES) fully laid out here:

    You can also sign up to participate in the upcoming webinar on the Super Bowl Rankings on our website.

    Samuel –

    You observations are correct. Novelty combined with an engaging storyline is a successful combination. Throw in good music and recognized individuals, the viewer wants to know what is going on and held their attention throughout the commercial. VW made the mistake this year of trying to combine too much in their commercial and lost the viewer by rapidly moving to Star War bar scene at the end that most likely confused the viewer. I noted that since the Super Bowl, VW has chopped that last segment out of their ad.


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