Brain Movies: Top 5 Super Bowl Ads


Everyone loves to rank Super Bowl ads, and one neuromarketing firm that did so is Sands Research (see Super Bowl 2010 Ad Winners. Sands uses a combination of EEG, eye-tracking, biometrics, and surveys to calculate a “neuro-engagement factor” for each ad. Does that mean these ads will sell more product? Not necessarily. But here are the top ads accompanied by their measured EEG activity – you can see how the changes in brain activity match up with the action in the commercial.

#5 – Bridgestone Whale of a Tail

#4 – Google Parisian Love

#3 – Budweiser Human Bridge

#2 – Visio Forge

#1 – VW Punch Dub

I found the remarkable rating for VW’s Punch Dub ad a little surprising. It was significantly higher than any other ad in the 2010 lineup (4.71 on Sands’ scale, vs. 3.96 for the next highest). The commercial was cute, but didn’t strike me as being off-the-chart cute.

The other surprise was that the inexpensive, mostly text Google Parisian Love ad finished in the top 5. I wrote about that ad last week in The Power of Text. Despite the apparent simplicity of that ad, it got a lot done – strong logo and brand exposure, product feature demonstration (suggestions, mapping, question answers, etc.), all woven into a compelling story.

Do YOU find anything surprising in these top 5, or in the big list of results in Super Bowl 2010 Ad Winners? How well do you think these rankings correlate with actual effectiveness in either selling product or strengthening/positioning a brand?

  1. Alexandre Bigaiski says

    Great videos. I love these super creative commercials. Thanks! =)

  2. Terri Langhans says

    I see intrigue and emotion as the key, common denominator ingredients. Intrigue engages the brain in having to “figure out what’s going on” vs. just being hit between the eyes with facts and features that are forgettable. And emotion is all about making the viewer FEEL one, not just showing one in the pretty pictures. That’s why I (and the crowd I watched the game with) adored the Google spot. Theater of the mind and a big “Ahhhhhh,” at the end, plus the need to use your brain to connect the dots. But we also loved Snickers and Betty White getting tackled in the mud. Again, it made us feel something…we laughed. Keep up the good work you do to keep marketing from being blah.

  3. Evan Hunerberg says

    These charts rock. We can see exactly where the pistons start firing, and there aren’t too many surprises.

    Quick appearances of emotionally charged stimuli had significant effects, and they add new dimensions to Google’s storytime ad.
    The protagonist’s decision to return to Paris earned the highest peak (which is a great testament to the narrative because there’s nothing inherently exciting about AA120), but extremely close numbers 2 and 3 came from a reference to those delicious, endorphin-producing, high-calorie nuggets called truffles, and from the transition between single half notes and the first chords in the soundtrack.

    Musical changes and high contrast visual sequences were also effective in the other commercials, and the VW ad showed us that ambulances and cops are stimulating.

    But, the real question is how to effectively produce the plateaus beneath all these peaks: suspension, and consistent action. Google used romance (what if our hero temporarily lost the girl at some point?), Vizio, Budweiser, and Bridgestone used danger, and VW used a good ol’ dose of familiarity and mild violence.

    Effective brand positioning? Well, I had to scroll up and recheck who produced Whaletail. So, our own white whale is still cruising up ahead …

  4. Jason says

    Two things with the VW ad. First, my reaction, as a child and probably now, to seeing people play punch buggies was to start paying more attention to cars. The alternative was physical pain. Strong pathways are formed from physical pain. Second, it’s a game, and all the required components were readily available. Eyes, fists, and friends in arm’s reach. Hard to not at least subconsciously start playing.

  5. Roy Mathers says

    Evan, I agree. It is also interesting to note that segments that are not believable score low (i.e. Amish, pregnant woman on the way to the hospital and blind people. Although Tracey Morgan’s testing of Mr. Wonder’s sight worked well). Overall the theme of a common practice a decade ago, help send this add over the top, as it activates memories. Next time leave out the don’t buy it and give the salesman an ice pack.

  6. Ron Wright says

    If you did not see Dr. Steve Sands comments in the press release, this provides some insight into what we see in the leading Super Bowl Ads:

    “Our technology measures engagement millisecond by millisecond and is the only to reflect frame by frame changes in emotion. Volkswagen’s ‘Punch Dub’ was our top scorer this year with a commercial that engaged viewers in virtually all of the frames,” stated Dr. Stephen Sands, Chairman and Chief Science Officer at Sands Research. “The company turned viewers into ‘Volkswagen detectors’ by having them look for and anticipate the cars – VW really maximized their entire 30 seconds.” Dr. Sands also noted that Google’s “Parisian Love” advertisement used an engaging storyline to elicit a consistent, deep emotional response from viewers.

    “Rankings based on ‘free recall’ only test how easily a commercial is remembered and as a result fail to provide substantive feedback,” said Dr. Sands. “By conducting neuromedia analysis based on EEG readings rather than recall or more unreliable instant analysis peripheral measures such as heart rate, we are able to effectively determine the dimensions on which commercials are engaging viewers, and also an ad’s chance for success.”

    Indeed, past results have proved strong indicators of future achievement – three out of the top five commercials identified in the 2009 Sands Research Super Bowl study went on to receive nominations for the coveted Creative Arts Emmy Award. This included Coca-Cola’s “Heist” spot which won the Emmy for “Outstanding Commercial” after taking Sands Research’s top ranking.

  7. Evan Hunerberg says

    Ron, that is an informative quote from the Sands people.

    The VW explanation is genius. But, the google rationalization isn’t as detailed as I’d expect from a neuro-researcher, and we still don’t know that “an ad’s chance for success” in boosting sales correlates closer to engagement than recall. …The Emmy award bit is just PR stuff.

    Engagement is certainly critical, but I am unsure about the dominance that Sands insinuates. His company provides invaluable information, but he downplays the importance of relevant engagement. Just because I checked for a – punch bug (anyone ever play this with non-beetles?) – doesn’t mean I want to own that silly obscurity giving me an excuse to horse around.

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