Bud Light's Super Bowl Ad Scored, But Was RadioShack the Big Winner?

With Super Bowl ads now costing $4 million for 30 seconds, do smaller players buying one ad have a chance to stand out, or is the big game best left to Budweiser, Coke, and other huge players?

Feb 5, 2014 at 2:18PM

While the Super Bowl played out on the field, Boston.com and Pointslocal analyzed hundreds of thousands of tweets about the ads that aired during the game to measure how effective the $4 million 30-second spots were. According to an article on Boston.com, the 2014 Brand Bowl, "looked at the volume of tweets, and through a natural language processor, determined whether the sentiment of the tweets was positive, negative, or neutral."

Anheuser-Busch's (NYSE:BUD) Budweiser and PepsiCo's (NYSE:PEP) Doritos -- both of which aired multiple ads -- were neck and neck for the top spot, but Budweiser pulled it out after its "Puppy Love" ad aired in the fourth quarter. The Brand Bowl, however, rewards companies for airing multiple ads and major advertisers like Budweiser and Doritos tend to score higher marks than more marginal players.

Big players dominated

Of the smaller players, RadioShacks's (NYSE:RSHCQ) ad, "The Phone Call," which featured Hulk Hogan and ALF among other figures from the 1980s, scored 97% in the sentiment category and was the "most loved" ad by both men and women. Aside from RadioShack, though (which is, for all its faults, a brand with high name recognition) all of the spots in the top 10 were dominated by major players that advertise year after year. After Budweiser and Doritos in the top two spots came Cheerios, Pepsi, and Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), followed by Bud Light at 6.

It isn't until number 12 -- Stephen Colbert's ad for Wonderful Pistachios -- that a lesser-known player managed to make the chart. And though Colbert's funny ad, which was cleverly broken up into two 15-second spots, scored a 86% positive sentiment ratings, it was the subject of only 11,522 tweets, whereas Budweiser racked up 63,493 (plus another 31,070 for Bud Light).

A mixed bag

Advertising Age Media Editor Nat Ives agreed that RadioShack's ad scored points with consumers. "By acknowledging its fall from '80s grace, RadioShack got everyone wondering whether the stores were returning to glory, so that's a good thing," he said in an interview with the Fool. "A lot depends now on the store experience, which might still have an uphill climb in the age of Apple stores and others aspiring to that model."

Jennifer Bassett, content strategy director for Havas Worldwide Tonic, a New York-based advertising agency, thinks that the entire model for Super Bowl advertising has changed.

"I think what we saw this year is that using the Super Bowl to debut an ad isn't necessarily the best route anymore," she told the Fool. "The event's most successful ad went viral before it even appeared on TV; Budweiser rolled out "Puppy Love" online a week before the event. "

Bassett said that she saw this year as more of a transitional year with no major winners. "Last year, we saw Oreo's blackout tweet, which felt like a real game-changer. But Oreo's decision to skip commenting on the game this year is telling. It seems like no one is quite sure what is next and no brand dared to really try and find out."

Winning by sitting out

J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) was not a Super Bowl advertiser, but ran a Twitter campaign during the game that got a lot of attention (partly from other brands retweeting it and making jokes) where the @JCPenney account was tweeting out what looked to be drunken ramblings. And though J.C. Penny's unconventional efforts got a lot of attention, Bassett was skeptical of its actual value.

"This year's trend seemed to be a number of brands tweeting at each other in real time, which didn't really engage anyone except a number of exhausted community managers," she said.

Ives was more positive about J.C. Penney's efforts. "It was actually clever -- successfully trolling everyone into accusing their social manager of being drunk on the job before revealing that we'd all been played and should go buy mittens," he said. "The off note there was the pictured mittens' Olympics theme. On Super Bowl Sunday we are interested in the Super Bowl, not the Olympics."

But is it worth it?

"$4 million for 30 seconds of ad time will always be a gamble, but at least there are many other ways to amplify your message these days, including releasing the ad online before the game," Ives said. "That in some ways mitigates the risk, even if your ad isn't that great."

Super Bowl ads get a lot of buzz and even the least successful ones get reviewed and discussed in ways that no other commercials are talked about the rest of the year. Still, it's a huge risk for the smaller players to gamble a large portion of their ad budgets on a single commercial. And, perhaps most important, as the RadioShack ad shows, having a popular commercial does not necessarily guarantee a rise in business.

Sure, RadioShack scored some laughs. But, as Ives mentioned above, whether a bunch of humorous cameos and an admission that its stores were stuck in the past gets customers to sample the company's changes -- which from the commercial appeared to be snazzier shirts for employees and less crowded shelves -- remains a questionable prospect at best.

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Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends PepsiCo. The Motley Fool owns shares of PepsiCo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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