Super Bowl Ads – A Pick for Neuro-Worst


The Loser. The inevitable fMRI neuromarketing analyses of the 2008 Super Bowl ads hasn’t appeared yet, but I’ve got my pick for the worst: Planters Nuts spot showing a hideous-looking woman who seemed amazingly attractive to those around her. This sounds like a good scenario for a perfume, perhaps… through most of the commercial, one has no clue as to what is being advertised. Then, in the closing seconds, we see how the woman became so magnetic: by rubbing herself with Planters cashews.

What gave Planters the idea that having an ugly woman rub their premium cashews on her body would make people want to actually buy and eat the product? By the time the cashews neared the subject’s dubious cleavage, the idea of eating any brand of nut was getting slightly revolting. One can only wonder what the female half of the audience was thinking… (“Hmmm, it’s worth a try?” or “Eeuuwww!”)

Some things just don’t mix. Remember the foot-on-chocolate promo I described some months ago? Using images that create revulsion in viewers to promote a food product is a questionable approach. (In my earlier article, I mentioned a decades-old failed promotion for soup that offered free stockings – feet and soup were not a winning combo.) Food marketers in particular have to be aware of product contagion – mere proximity of items in a shopping cart caused the disgusting characteristics of one product to transfer to an adjacent item.

Putting neuromarketing issues aside, this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads seemed a bit lackluster. One approach adopted by many of the ads was to spend almost the entire ad on a comic story line of some kind and then tie in the brand in the last few seconds. This is a very risky approach, particularly for a brand that starts with low recognition. That last-second brand reference has to stick in the viewers mind even as the game returns or a new commercial begins.

One of the best of the last-second product messages was by Audi to promote a new luxury model. It recreates the famous scene from The Godfather where the silver-haired movie exec wakes up to find his prized horse’s severed head in his bed. In the commercial, it’s the grill chopped from a Mercedes. At the close, one sees a sexy-looking Audi (not an oxymoron, amazingly enough) drive off. Despite the non-sequitur nature of the commercial, one couldn’t really look away from it, and the car did look really hot.

Budweiser had one of its typical emotional appeals in which a rejected Clydesdale goes into a Rocky-like training program (with the Burgess Meredith role filled by a helpful Dalmation) in order to “make the team.” Cute, and everyone knows what brand of beer Clydesdales pull.

The most puzzling waste of money was a Doritos ad that was entirely a brief music video from an unknown folk singer named Kina Grannis. The biggest snack day of the year and not a chip in sight? Or even a powerful branding message? Did a group of high-paid marketing execs really agree that this was the best way to spend three million bucks?

The Winner. My pick for the most effective ad is the Coca Cola “It’s Mine” commercial featuring parade balloons chasing a Coke bottle balloon through the concrete canyons of Manhattan. A smiling Charlie Brown balloon emerges from nowhere to snag the prize. There was a lot to like in this commercial – the setting and cinematography were striking, the giant balloons were funny as they lumbered between buildings, and perennial loser Charlie Brown winning the bottle was an uplifting emotional twist. Most important, though, was that Coke’s iconic bottle was visible throughout the commercial as the object of the chase. Coke is all about branding, and this commercial worked.

  1. Jeff Gwynne says


    I agree that this year’s commercials were lack luster. This seems strange for what could be the most viewed SB of all time. I haven’t seen the stats, but everyone in corporate America and Madison Ave. should have known for months that this one would be the Patriots and their appointment with destiny. I guess the doctor wasn’t in.

  2. Roger Dooley says

    Maybe they assumed that this game would be the blowout predicted by Pats fans and oddsmakers, although I doubt if agencies base the quality of the ads on the expected audience level. I think that some years they just get it right more often. At least there were a few bright spots among this year’s ads.

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