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The Power of Identity: A Look at Super Bowl LI Advertising

Posted by Savannah House on Fri, Feb 10, 2017

As a Boston-based strategy and research firm, we CMBers had high expectations for both the Patriots’ performance and of course, the Super Bowl ads. I’m happy to report that neither disappointed.

111 million people tuned into last Sunday’s game, making Super Bowl LI the fifth most-watched TV broadcast in history. But of those 111 million people, surely not all of them are Pats, Falcons, or even football fans. So while it’s hard for us New Englanders to believe, some people watch the Super Bowl (at least in part) for the commercials. After all, each year brands vie to have the most talked and tweeted about ad – setting the bar high to deliver quality, original, and memorable content.

In this divisive time, many brands were commended for tackling culturally relevant issues head on. And while I thought there were a number of really beautiful ads, I’d like to suggest a few other criteria for evaluation: 

  • How well does the ad align with the Super Bowl occasion?
  • Could you connect the ad to the brand and the value of the brand?
  • Did it communicate a compelling image of the brand’s typical user?
Question three is of particular interest to me because it’s related to our newest research solution, AffinIDSM.  AffinID helps brands understand their target consumers’ image of the typical person who uses their brand and finds ways to strategically influence that image to strengthen how much consumers identify with the image. Our research shows that the more consumers can identify with their image of the typical person who uses the brand, the more they will try, buy, pay for, and recommend the brand. This way of measuring brand perception is different from the traditional brand-centric approach (“What do I think of the brand?”) because it focuses on perceived brand user image.

AffinID measures how compelling a brand user image is based on its clarity, relatability, and social desirability; so from an advertising perspective, we’re interested in evaluating how well the spot communicates a clear, relatable, and socially desirable message of who the brand’s typical consumer is.

That said, I thought it’d be fun to review a few popular Super Bowl LI ads through an AffinID lens:

"Romance" from Skittles
Created by: Adam & Eve/DDB

 Reminiscent of the classic “pebbles at the window” scene, Skittles “Romance” features a love struck teenager throwing Skittles through his beloved’s bedroom window. The Skittles are intended for his love, but unbeknownst to the teen, she’s actually letting her mom, dad, grandmother, home intruder, policeman, beaver (?) etc. take turns catching candy in their mouths.

  • Clarity: Skittles is sending the message that everyone (even beavers?) eats their candy. While this inclusive message resonates with a wide audience, it may diminish the brand’s clarity of who the stereotypical customer is.
  • Relatability: “Romance” features a wide range of Skittles customers, making its image of the typical user highly relatable. 
  • Social Desirability: From the looks of the ad, everyone seems to be having a great time eating Skittles. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with them?

Skittles_AffinID.png

"Yearbooks" from Honda
Created by: RPA

 Bust out your high tops and cassette tapes because Honda’s “Yearbooks” will take you for a trip down memory lane. “Yearbooks” features animated yearbook pictures of heavy hitters like Tina Fey, Robert Redford, Steve Carrell, Missy Elliott, Viola Davis and Jimmy Kimmel celebrating the notion of “chasing dreams and the amazing places they lead” yearbooks typically evoke.

  • Clarity: While it’s fun to see high school versions of celebrities like Amy Adams and Magic Johnson, the ad features so many different people that it’s not clear who the typical Honda CR-V driver is.
  • Relatability: I think to some extent we can all relate to someone in this ad. Even though they’re famous celebrities who may not be relatable in real life, in the ad they’re portrayed as normal high school students excited about their future. And really, who didn’t go through an awkward high school phase?
  • Social Desirability: This is undoubtedly a fun ad, but there’s not a strong social desirability here. Though warm-hearted, it doesn’t portray an aspirational social identity like other car commercials do – specifically ones that feature successful and sexy drivers.
Honda_AffinID.png

"Google Home" from Google
Created by: 72andSunny

The Google Home spot hasn’t gotten much love in “best of” articles about this year’s Super Bowl ads, but it may have helped Google Home take major strides across “the chasm”—while unintentionally setting off a bunch of the systems in homes of those who already had it. In the 60 second spot, the voice-activated smart speaker “welcomes” home people from a variety of backgrounds (younger, older, parents, pet-owners) and is used, seemingly with ease, to do things like turn on the lights and translate helpful phrases like “Nice to meet you” from English to Spanish.

  • Clarity: Mass market consumers probably lack a clear image of kind of person who has a virtual assistant—or assume that it’s an affluent early-adopter. While the people shown in the Google Home spot were diverse, they all shared an “everyday” quality that was likely clearer and more relevant than the image most Super Bowl viewers had had before they saw it.
  • Relatability: Where Google Home lacks clarity, it makes up for in relatability. Since the ad features people from all walks of life, it’s pretty easy to find someone you can relate to – whether it’s the young couple with sleepy kids or the mother in need of an ingredient substitution while she cooks for her family.
  • Social Desirability: The ad’s feel-good theme throughout makes me want to jump into any of the scenes – it’s 60 seconds of friends and family hugging, laughing, and loving. If that’s not socially desirable, I don’t know what is.
Google_AffinID-2.png

As marketing, insights, and advertising professionals know, there’s way more to developing and testing messaging than my quick “analysis”. That’s why we created AffinID – to help brands and their agencies develop effective, consumer-centric strategies for growth by recognizing the power of consumer identity in brand decision-making. 

Learn more about AffinID by watching our latest webinar with Dr. Erica Carranza—CMB’s VP of Consumer Psychology. And let us know which ads you found engaging (or not) in the comments.

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Savannah House is a Senior Marketing Coordinator at CMB who places as much weight on the quality of the Super Bowl snacks as she does the commercials.

Topics: consumer insights, brand health and positioning, AffinID