Super Bowl Ads: “Second Payoff” Pays Off


Darth Vader in VW 2012 ad
The Super Bowl is the biggest day of the year for football fans, and just about as important for neuromarketing companies. The first results of neuromarketing studies from the big game are trickling out, and Innerscope Research observed a strategy employed by multiple advertisers: a “second payoff” at the end of the ad, after the branding visual.

You may recall Volkswagen’s ad from 2011, which featured a pint-sized Darth Vader apparently starting a VW Jetta with “the force.” That ad scored well in just about every measure of success – both ad critics and the public loved it, and neuromarketing study showed it to be the most engaging ad tested to that point. One criticism of the ad was that the brand and product appeared at the very end and weren’t particularly memorable. This led to the complaint so often heard about engaging ads – “Great ad, loved it! What was it for? I can’t remember.”

According to Carl Marci, CEO and Chief Scientist of Innerscope Research, several advertisers used a strategy exemplified by the 2012 VW Super Bowl ad, “The Bark Side.” The ad is shown in the video below, along with a graph of viewer engagement.
NOTE: At the moment, our friends at Volkswagen have blocked the playing of this video. Perhaps someone there will unblock it when they see that we aren’t attempting to post a duplicate of their ad. In the meantime, the still illustration shows the variation in engagement as calculated by Innerscope. You can view the full commercial without the engagement overlay in the second video box below.

Here’s the “play by play” from Marci:

Engagement builds relatively slowly to an initial high on completion of the dog’s journey with a drop when it switches to the branding moment. This is likely due to the fact that audiences engage with the dog but “miss” the connection with the brand/product in the first half of the ad. The addition of the Star Wars segment creates a more clear connection to the brand with the reference to the popular 2011 VW ad entitled “The Force.” Engagement surges with the second “pay-off” as a the audience completes the emotional journey on a high note.

Innerscope measures biometric measures, like heart rate, skin sweat, breathing and motion, to determine viewer engagement.

The other ads that Innerscope identified as using the “second payoff” approach were:

  • Pepsi – Elton John/Flava Flav
  • Audi – Vampires
  • M&Ms
  • Chevy – Graduation Gift
  • Bud Light – HereWeGo
  • Samsung – Tablet
  • Acura – Seinfeld

What do you think – does a second payoff make the branding that precedes it more memorable? Or is it just as distracting as heading into another commercial?

  1. Alan Bergstrom says

    Roger: great article. The VW video clip included in your article doesn’t play as the content has been blocked for copyright infringement I assume.
    Although not quite the same, the idea reminds me of peak-end theory applied to an ad. Does it possibly work the same way in our brain?

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Thanks for pointing out the video problem, Alan. Sorry to see that the version I posted (with the graph overlay) wasn’t allowed.

      I think the best strategy is to attempt to get the branding done while engagement is high. I was kind of disappointed that (according to the Innerscope data) people lost interest during the short branding message.


  2. Genevieve Oxford says

    I’m not so sure about the other commercials on that list, but the VW one for sure left my peers VERY confused. Many people talked about that commercial but only to ask what the second part was about! And, in every conversation I had, they couldn’t remember the brand.


    1. Roger Dooley says

      Genevieve, I know exactly what you mean. The Darth Vader thing is an inside joke. I got it right away because I blogged about the original ad and even use a brain-movie version in some of my speeches. I’m sure all the ad agency people got it, too. I’m not so sure, though, that a large percentage of consumers could actually make the connection that quickly, or at all. I’m sure many were mystified as to what that bar scene had to do with the dog.

  3. Rachel Sockut says

    We thought it was interesting too, especially given that the other “secondary payoff” ads this year continued their primary story with an added bit of humor rather than making a reference to a previous ad. I am curious whether either form of this creative strategy will be adopted by other ads that come out throughout the year.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      I agree, Rachel. The graph suggests that when the ad focuses on a brand image, people lose interest rapidly. This ad provided no clue as to branding until well into it, when the car appears. Then, the second segment didn’t offer branding cues either. So, it’s funny, but will it sell cars? I prefer ads that make a more continuous branding statement. One of my all-time favorites in that respect is Google’s Parisian Love ad, which was nearly a full-length product demo even as it told an engaging story.


      1. Christian Bonawandt says

        Hi Roger,

        I agree that ads like Google’s Parisian Love are more effective is communicating a brand message in an engaging way. However, what you see with the VW ads, starting with Vader Kid and now the Bark Side is the beginning of series tying Star Wars to Volkswagen. My guess is that, given the lasting and stalwart popularity of the Star Wars brand, VW hopes to capitalize on that notoriety and endurance.

        I find the decision to intertwine these two elements to be one of questionable wisdom. Certainly there’s no innate conceptual connection between the two–and it’s not like you can logically force VW branding into new or re-released Star Wars products. Furthermore, of all the Star Wars characters, I don’t think Darth Vader is the one you’d want most easily associated with your product.

        In my opinion, the problem lies not in execution but in the decision to use Star Wars as the associated brand. Remember there was a time in the early 1990s when Ray Charles was synonymous with Diet Pepsi. I can still hear him singing, “You got the right one, baby… uh-huh!” These kinds of cross-branding ads are reasonably effective (unless you have data that says otherwise, in which case, please share) when you choose the right brand to associate your own with. Unfortunately, I don’t think VW has.

        1. Roger Dooley says

          Good points, Christian. I think there are two issues – the appropriateness of the Star Wars/VW linkage that you raise, and also whether consumers will even remember it. Now, if Darth Vader spent 60 seconds driving a VW Beetle in an ad, encountering amusing situations as he motored about the city with Chewbacca riding shotgun, I think the brand association would be far more memorable!

  4. Margaret J. King says

    Just a reminder that the only thing that counts is the answer to this question: Did the ad generate more sales? Ad agencies are oriented to the reward system in their industry: awards and press. This doesn’t necessarily help their clilent’s cause: great ads can produce poor or negative sales outcomes: remember the wonder Nissan ad that everyone in the industry loved? Sales actually retreated. What are the sales outcomes for this list of products? That’s where the real story lies.
    Our work with agencies over the years is targeted to outcomes, but few in the business seem to be able to aim their objectives to this goal.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Quite true, Margaret. There is widespread agreement that last year’s VW ad with the pint-sized Darth Vader was really engaging. Critics liked it, viewers liked it, and neuromarketing studies showed that it really did light up the brains of viewers. But, did it sell more Passats? The link to sales is a lot more tenuous.


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