Every year during the Super Bowl, the commercials are as highly anticipated as the game itself. We dial-tested TV ads during Super Bowl 51 with a live audience to separate the winners from the losers.
Americans see Super Bowl commercials as entertainment more than advertisement. As a result, brands tend to save their most amusing ads for Game Day and TV audiences eagerly tune in – even if they don’t like football.
We dial-tested this year’s ads with a focus group of 18 men and 18 women to see which ones brought home the glory and which ones dropped the ball.
The NFL’s own spot dubbed “Inside These Lines” was considered the most emotional ad of the night by our group.
The ad’s declaration of unity reflected not just the Super Bowl audience, but also the country as a whole. In our group, men rated it at 88 and women at 78.
Another high-scoring ad that wasn’t even shown during gametime was Ford Motor’s “Go Further,” which our group cited as “relatable” and informative.
Ford’s emphasis on ride-sharing and bike-sharing throughout the ad positioned them as more than a car company – they’re now a “mobility company.” Men rated it at 89 and women at 86.
The funniest ad of the night came from Skittles. The classic romantic trope of a boy throwing pebbles at a girl’s bedroom window took a hilarious twist, and our group absolutely loved it. Men rated the Skittles spot at 79 and women at 80.
Another funny ad came from Buick. It featured Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton utterly dominating a squad of pee-wee football players. Men rated it at 80 and women at 78.
The sleeper-hit ad of the night came from nutrition drink company Bai. They used their pun-friendly name (#BaiBaiBai) to their advantage with a little help from stoic actor Christopher Walken and *NSYNC alum Justin Timberlake.
In our group, members said Bai’s humor was “clever,” “simple,” and it “didn’t seem forced like some of the other ads.” Men rated it at 76 and women at 86.
Evidently, not all Justins are created equal – T-Mobile’s ad featuring Justin Bieber failed to gain traction with our group.
Saying the humor felt “forced” and “predictable,” women in our group rated it a slightly-above-average 63 while men dialed it at an abysmal 37.
Another ad that missed the mark was Wendy’s “Cold Storage” spot.
While most people would agree that frozen burgers are less than optimal, our audience said Wendy’s did little to show how their burgers were different from their competitors’. “It was a completely negative look that didn’t tell me anything about their product.”
Men dialed it at a very average 52 and women gave it a 30.
Finally, the most underwhelming performance of the night (besides the Falcons’ second-half offense) was WeatherTech’s ad.
The Mission Impossible undertones for an ad about car placemats felt excessive to our group, who said “I can’t believe they bought time on the Super Bowl.” Men rated it at 24 and women at 20.