Daily Dose of Super Bowl Ad Insights

In the lead-up to the big game this year, we are capturing insights around the brands and ads set to appear on TV. Stay tuned for our daily snippets and stories that will populate here. And for more, you can check out the latest data on our Super Bowl VIP Ad Center, and tune into our post-Super Bowl webinar hosted by Ad Age.

Wednesday, Feb. 3

Frito-Lay’s Champion… chip Star Power

Just in case audiences forgot, Frito-Lay wants to make sure they remember the chips for the Super Bowl. This year’s spot, “Twas the Night Before the Super Bowl,” unleashes a bevy of NFL Hall-of-Famers (and soon-to-be honorees) narrated by Marshawn Lynch to showcase Frito-Lays products.  

  • The ad’s Attention (731) and Likeability (731) both scored well above the five-year Super Bowl average, according to Ace Metrix Creative Assessment.
  • “Funny” was the top emotion from audiences, followed by “Love It.”
  • Single Best Thing: Characters (26%), in response to a collection of former NFL stars from Peyton and Eli Manning, to Terry Bradshaw, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, and more.
  • This is the fourth straight Super Bowl featuring an ad with former New York Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning. He appeared in NFL Super Bowl spots in 2018 and 2019, and a Verizon ad, “One More Sunday,” last year.
  • Since the start of 2020, Frito-Lay (as a parent company, not individual brands) has dedicated 16.7% of TV ad spend to NFL games — most of any show.

Audiences Heart Bud

  • Since the 2014 Super Bowl, “heartfelt” ads have actually experienced a decline; from 43% and then 47% down to just 22% of spots during the 2020 game.
  • Automakers, wireless, and beer have seemed to tug at audience heartstrings most, making up eight of the 10 most heartfelt ads since 2014.
  • Budweiser aired two of the five most heartfelt ads in the timeframe, with “Hero’s Welcome” (2014) and “Lost Dog” (2015).
  • Toyota and Verizon also each had two of the 10 most heartfelt Super Bowl ads since 2014.
  • Of the 10 most heartfelt ads, six of the top 10 aired in either 2014 (43% of all Super Bowl ads were heartfelt) or 2015 (47% were heartfelt).

Amazon’s Michael B… Alexa?

Amazon’s Alexa has been part of the last six Super Bowls, and in a twist this year, she’s portrayed by actor Michael B. Jordan

  • The ad’s Attention (700) and Likeability (658) both scored above the average, according to Ace Metrix Creative Assessment.
  • “Funny” was the top emotion from audiences.
  • Single Best Thing: Characters (37%), reacting to Michael B. Jordan’s humorous take on things Alexa would normally do and say.
  • Though Amazon’s a Super Bowl veteran, it’s Michael B. Jordan’s first turn as an ad star during the big game.

Last year’s “Before Alexa” Super Bowl spot scored well in terms of Attention (709) and Likeability (702) as well.

Tuesday, Feb. 2

Super Newcomers

Super Bowl Advertiser Freshman Class Chart

With many Super Bowl stalwarts sitting out of the game this year, and various brands finding newfound success during last year’s stay-at-home environment, it’s opened up room for new advertisers to appear at a greater rate than they did last year.

Top 10 Spenders on Super Bowl Ad Commercials 2016-2020

Top-spending Super Bowl Advertisers
  • ABInBev accounts for three of the top 10 brand advertisers by spend over the last five Super Bowls — Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, and Budweiser all made the list.
  • Though Verizon has been an official sponsor of the NFL for years, wireless competitor T-Mobile has actually been the biggest advertiser (by spend) over the last five Super Bowls.
  • Automakers are obviously prevalent at the top of the list for Super Bowl spenders: Toyota, Kia, and Jeep all present here over the last five years. Of those three, however, only Toyota’s an official NFL sponsor.
  • While Universal Pictures is included here, it’s notable that about a third of that total came from when the Super Bowl aired on NBC (also owned by NBCUniversal) in 2018.

Audiences LOL for CPG

  • Since the 2014 Super Bowl, “funny” ads have remained a staple; at least 53% of ads were viewed as funny each year, and hit a high-water mark of 69% during the 2020 game (was 68% in 2014).
  • Female celebrities yielded the funniest ads over the full timeframe from 2014-20 — 75% of survey respondents found Super Bowl spots with female celebrities funny, while just 56% of those with male celebrities were seen as such.
  • Doritos spots were regularly among the funniest ads during the Super Bowl, with five of the 10 funniest ads since 2014 according to data from iSpot’s Ace Metrix and three having perfect 10.0 scores.
  • CPG also made up 13 of the 15 funniest spots, with the lone exceptions being automakers Audi and Kia.

Monday, Feb. 1

Even Without Super Bowl, Budweiser Sees Bigger Picture

For the first time in 37 years, Budweiser is passing on Super Bowl airtime. Instead, the brand announced in “Bigger Picture” that it is redirecting the money it would’ve spent on a game day spot towards raising awareness for COVID-19 vaccines. 

  • Budweiser’s “Bigger Picture” spot scored into Rare territory as an Ace Metrix Empower score — tied for 2nd highest scoring on this metric so far in 2021
  • The spot outperformed five-year Super Bowl advertising norms across traditional metrics
    • Most notably on Information (122 points above five-year Super Bowl norms) and Relevance (101 points above norm)
  • The creative follows the same approach/messaging as Anheuser-Busch’s “One Team” — which first aired at the start of the pandemic. Both spots generated similar, high Empower scores:
    • Just 0.61% of all ads achieve Empower scores in the “Rare” band of signal
"Bigger Picture" Chart


NFL Playoff Payoff for Brands

2021 Playoffs Top Brands Chart
  • Though TV ad impressions for NFL games showed a slight decline year over year (down 7.7%), the NFL was still the top show on TV for impressions, with nearly 12x more than the nearest competitor during that time frame of Jan. 9-24.
  • Estimated TV ad spend during playoff games was up over 20%, while a larger list of brands advertised this year vs. last.
  • Of the top 20 brand advertisers during this year’s playoffs, 15 increased impressions from the 2020 postseason, and Allstate led the way with a jump of more than 1,100% compared to last year.

Download the report for more.

WeatherTech’s American Dream is a Visual Pleaser

Single Best Thing Chart
  • The trailer outperformed 2020 SB teaser norms across most traditional metrics, with strong Breakthrough performance (Attention and Likeability)
  • Resonated most with viewers in the Northeast and South
  • 39% of viewers chose the Visuals as the Single Best Thing about the ad
  • Curiosity was the top emotion: viewers are eager to find out what comes next on Feb. 7

What do people like best about Super Bowl ads?

  • We’ll be looking at Empowering ads which have been on the upswing in recent years — just 2% of Super Bowl spots were considered empowering in 2010, but that’s jumped to 24-25% during the last three Super Bowl games.
  • Sexism is trending downward since 2014; ads considered “sexist” by viewers have continued to trend downward — with only 2% of ads being labeled as such in 2020 compared to 11% during the 2014 game. 
  • The use of celebrities in ad creatives have continued to trend upward. Super Bowl LIV had a record number of celebs appearing in 78% of all ads last year compared to 31% during the 2010 game.

2020: The Year of the 60-Second Super Bowl Spot

Percent of Ads by Ad Length Chart
  • After years of Super Bowl spots getting longer, ad length hit a 10-year high during Super Bowl LIV (2020), as 45% of ads ran for one minute
  • Also increasing in that timeframe: 15-second ads (from 2% to 9%) and 90-second ads (0% to 4%)
  • Average ad length has increased overall from 36 seconds in 2010 to 45 seconds in 2020

See more Super Bowl ad insights from iSpot

Bud Light Bubbles Up as Top Big Game Brand

Most Frequent Super Bowl Advertisers
  • While it’s a big deal that Budweiser won’t air an ad during the Super Bowl this year, parent company ABInBev will still be purchasing time for both Bud Light and Michelob ULTRA
  • Bud Light has been the most frequent Super Bowl advertiser since 2010 by number of ads (26), with Doritos next at 19 total
  • Despite how predominant automaker advertising is during NFL games, it’s notable that just two of those brands (Hyundai, Kia) appear on this list

View more on past Super Bowl spots and top brands

Friday, Jan. 29

Pepsi’s Super Bowl Playbook: Take the Weeknd

Pepsi Word Cloud

After a decade that’s seen Pepsi produce nearly a dozen Super Bowl ads, PepsiCo has announced that it will bench its flagship brand for Super Bowl LV.  But Pepsi is still storming the big event as title sponsor of the halftime show starring The Weeknd, who appears in what is to-date the most buzzed-about TV ad among the pre-release pack in the iSpot Super Bowl Ad Center so far. 

  • WhilePepsiCo is choosing not to fork over $5.5 million or so to drop an ad during the big game, consider the $31.7 million (est.) that it’s already invested in its halftime teaser
  • The promo has generated 651 million TV impressions over 720 (sports-centric) airings so far, giving the brand heavy frequency during playoff football with household decision-makers who are most likely to spend with Pepsi during this month
  • According to Ace Metrix creative assessment, while music is what people like most about the creative, the majority (64%) of viewers identify Pepsi as a primary message, and viewer comments are overwhelmingly positive. Across the board, the halftime teaser is outperforming ads for the brand and all other ads in the soft drink category.

Most Empowering Super Bowl Ads Since 2014

Percent of Super Bowl Ads that registered the "Empower" reaction

Brands can take a variety of approaches to the Super Bowl with the goal of producing memorable creative. In recent years, “empowering” ads have been on the rise during the big game — a trend that is likely to continue in 2021 given how the tone of spots shifted throughout last year. These ads typically focus on brand building through purpose-driven messages that resonate with consumers’ shared values.

  • Audiences perceived just 2% of Super Bowl spots to be “empowering” back in 2010, yet that number has climbed in the time since to between 24 and 25% for the past three games.
  • In what’s perhaps a sign of things to come during Super Bowl LV, the rate of Empowering ads peaked in April 2020 when 49% of all ads tested that month scored on the metric. It has remained higher than it was pre-pandemic
  • Michelob Ultra, Chipotle, and DoorDash are among several brands that have appeared to forgo typical brand messaging in favor of either a focus on positivity or corporate philanthropy.

Thursday, Jan. 28

Michelob Ultra’s Super Bowl Ad is Making People “Thirsty”

Michelob Ultra Ad

While Budweiser is sitting out the Super Bowl this year, other ABInBev brands will still be advertising during the game. Michelob Ultra is one of those, with its spot featuring numerous sports stars being happy, emphasizing that “it’s only worth it if you enjoy it.”

  • The ad’s Attention (658) and Likeability (638) were both above the average, according to Ace Metrix Creative Assessment.
  • “Thirsty” was the top emotion from audiences (in response to the depiction of bottles of Michelob Ultra).
  • Single Best Thing: Characters (17%), who were primarily athletes like Serena Williams, Mia Hamm, Peyton Manning, and Anthony Davis.
  • Michelob has appeared during every Super Bowl since 2016, after taking 2011-15 off from the big game.
  • Last year’s Michelob Ultra Super Bowl spot was another star-studded affair with Jimmy Fallon and John Cena, which round up airing from February through June of last year (with 595.6 million TV ad impressions over the course of its run). According to viewers, “Jimmy Works Out” was one of the funniest ads in 2020 (ranked 7 out of the top 10).

Can a Burrito Change the World? People Think It’s Healthy and Like That Message At Least

Scores Chart

Rather than focus on its product — a known commodity without any new features — Chipotle instead leans into sustainability and corporate responsibility with its 2021 Super Bowl creative. The spot features a young boy talking about how Chipotle’s process of making burritos can teach us about various ways to conserve energy and natural resources, putting a spotlight on farmers over the brand.

  • The ad’s Attention (680) and Likeability (677) were both well above the average, according to Ace Metrix Creative Assessment.
  • “Healthy” was the top emotion from audiences, in response to the spot’s discussion around fresh and sustainable ingredients.
  • Single Best Thing: The Message (29%).
  • This is Chipotle’s first Super Bowl spot.
  • In 2020, 37.7% of Chipotle TV ad impressions were generated by sports-related shows last year, including 19.1% by the NFL, which was the top show for Chipotle by impressions last year.

DoorDash, Cookie Monster Gobble Up Likeability

Single Best Thing Chart

After a year in which DoorDash increased TV ad impressions by more than 79%, the brand had less of a need to explain its service to audiences with this year’s Super Bowl spot. Instead, the teaser used Cookie Monster and actor Daveed Diggs to tell viewers — conveniently, during an event when many will get food delivered — that for a limited time, $1 from each delivery will be donated to Sesame Workshop.

  • The ad’s Attention (715) and Likeability (706) both scored well above the average, according to Ace Metrix Creative Assessment.
  • “Love It” was the top emotion from audiences, followed by “Nostalgia”
  • Single Best Thing: Characters (41%), in response to Daveed Diggs, and the universally recognizable Cookie Monster.
  • This is DoorDash’s first Super Bowl spot.
  • Delivery services increased TV ad impressions by 58.5% in 2020, led by GrubHub (33.9% of all impressions in the industry) and DoorDash (22.8%).

Doritos Leverages Celebrity Trend

National Linear Impressions vs Estimated TV Spend Chart

Following a decade of taking user submissions for Super Bowl ads, Doritos opted for celebrity-laden affairs in recent years and generated some of the game’s most memorable ads. This year, the stars are Mindy Kaling and Jimmy Kimmel, along with an off-screen (in both teasers) Matthew McConaughey. The ad is also prepping viewers to engage with the hashtag #flatmatthew in advance of the game, to increase conversation around the ad.

  • Since it was a teaser rather than a full Doritos ad, it makes sense that “curiosity” was the top emotion from viewers.
  • Single Best Thing: Characters (28%), which were limited to stars Jimmy Kimmel and Mindy Kaling.
  • Doritos has aired a Super Bowl ad all but one year (2017) since 2007, opting for celebrities again starting in 2018.
  • The Super Bowl is regularly one of the biggest days of the year for Doritos, given the prevalence of chips as a game-day snack; last year, the Super Bowl generated the third-most TV ad impressions of any show Doritos spots appeared during.

Learn more about all of this year’s Super Bowl advertisers and past year’s creative at iSpot’s VIP Ad Center.