Best Superbowl Commercial (Using Behavioral Economics)

Many of the “ad meters” are showing the Eli Manning / Odell Beckham Jr. “Dirty Dancing” spoof or the “Alexa lost her voice” ad as the best of the season, but I disagree. While both were very funny, and I enjoyed them, there was another ad series that absolutely killed it from a behavioral economics perspective. Which was it you ask?


Seriously, this ad series was absolutely genius, and here is why:

It tied (Tide?) itself to every single ad. 

If you’ve heard me speak, you know your subconscious brain is running the show; constantly working and evaluating. While some of the other ads may have registered consciously as funny or interesting, this one got beneath the surface and lodged itself in there – very important for long term success.

The human brain works by association. As a word / color / concept is presented, all the items associated with it are called upon by the subconscious. It then evaluates every options in microseconds and lets the conscious brain know what to pay attention to. Those new associations hang out for a bit and if reinforced, they get stronger.

Tide has essentially bonded itself to every type of commercial you expect from the Superbowl – cars, Clydesdales, beer, perfume, medicine – along with some well known brands (Old Spice, Mr. Clean) to make you wonder if every commercial really is just a #tidead. In the coming weeks and months, your subconscious will remember these ads when it sees other commercials from the Superbowl. Consistently reinforcing this brilliant campaign.

2) Small consistent victories.

Our brains love small challenges that lead to easy victories – they release dopamine, making you feel accomplished (and wanting more). They set us all up by asking if every Superbowl ad was just an ad for Tide…and when it turned out the ad you were watching actually was for Tide, your brain said, “I knew it!”

At any point did you find yourself (or someone around you if you watched in a group) saying, “Of course that’s an ad for Tide!” or “I suspected that might have been a Tide ad…” or “I was sure that was going to be a Tide ad…” or some other “Aha!” moment related to Tide?

This is the brilliance of the campaign. Your subconscious brain was searching for little victories to get more dopamine. And, because we all know Superbowl commercials are insanely expensive, after each you had an expectation that it had to be the last one. Surprise! Another Tide ad! (If your expectation is met, there is no dopamine release; and under-delivered expectations result in depletion. When you get a result that exceeds your expectation…it’s like a party in your brain.)

3) Simple brand message.

What did you learn from this series of ads? What does your brain remember? Clean shirts mean they used Tide. Laundry is boring. Thankfully, we were not subjected to people smiling while putting clothes in their dryer or folding super bright dresses, or showing a comparison of the same shirt side by side. That’s table stakes for laundry detergent. It’s been done.

And, sorry to Persil, but we were all secretly wondering if that was a Tide commercial in disguise.

Taglines change over the years, but this campaign definitely reinforced theirs: If it’s gotta be clean, it’s gotta be Tide. (Their website now shows a slightly updated version, of “If it’s clean, it’s gotta be Tide.”)

This ad series is the clear behavioral economics winner of 2018. It is the equivalent of an “ear worm” – it is now stuck in your subconscious brain and no matter what you do, Tide = clean is in there. Next time we all buy laundry detergent, I would bet that Tide will get an extra glance, nudge or consideration from our subconscious brains. In case you want to watch them all again in succession, here is the series:

What are your thoughts on the ads? Do you have a favorite? Thoughts about Tide? Share them in the comments.

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