Super Bowl Commercials 2019: A Behavioral Economics Review

Yesterday was the Super Bowl. Sure, football was played (sort of…not the most exciting game in history), but I was in it for the commercials. Last year, there was an obvious standout “winner” for me (It’s a Tide Ad)…2019 did not have the same overwhelmingly obvious “best” commercial from a behavioral economics perspective.

So, instead of narrowing it down to one “winner” I am going to showcase some commercials I think did a great job incorporating behavioral economics concepts (whether they know it or not). And…one ad that was a BE fail…

Hyundai – The Elevator

This ad did a great job associating how bad a normal car buying experience can be (“Oh, you’re going down…way down.”) and showing all the things traditional car shopping is worse than (root canals, jury duty, “the talk”, vegan dinner party). Using the humor of Jason Bateman to really sell the humor throughout. This approach takes something intangible and makes it feel like the items are related (you have to go down past all those other bad things to get this this terrible thing). We then find out that Hyundai has a much better experience and so this couple gets to go back up the elevator to their lovely floor with open air and a great view. This is a great example of how framing a message properly can have a big impact. They could have just said, “Our experience is better than normal!” or “People who use Hyundai Assurance are happier than people who shop the traditional way!” but that doesn’t mean the same thing as when it is showcased in this vertical fashion. And, while I would argue that car shopping is not as bad (or worse than) a root canal…the brain believes what it hears first and they have put this in all our minds now. No turning back…

Mint Mobile – Chunky Milk

YUCK. This was a mirror neuron fest if I’ve ever seen one. I actually had some friends send me messages during the Super Bowl because they said this commercial reminded them of my podcast episodes – ha! While I have used the “spoiled milk” reference in the mirror neurons and taste episodes…I definitely wasn’t imagining anything this graphic. The chunks flowing out of the carton…and the descriptions…and the chewing – oh, the chewing. Gruesome. All this was made possible by our mirror neurons. We can relate to this (and feel like we may throw up) even though that “milk” is no where near us. One question I have though, is if this was too far away from the brand. You probably remembered this commercial, but did you remember who the advertiser was or what they were selling? This is a risk when you do something so extreme…so keep that in mind with your own advertising.

Bud Light – No Corn Syrup

So, one thing is for certain. I don’t think anyone who watched the commercials would not be able to repeat the main point of these Bud Light Commercials – they don’t use corn syrup, while Coors and Miller Light do. Boom. Simple message. Easy to remember – and they really drilled it home. They were the closest to the Tide Ad in their consistent reappearance (they had advertisements each quarter which included the renaissance feel and message about not using corn syrup. This simple messaging showcases how ads can overcome the top 5 wording mistakes businesses make – and choosing one thing to focus on and point absolutely everything in that direction.

CBS – Then, Now, Always

I feel like this commercial is one that is/was overlooked (pun intended). I couldn’t even find it in a traditional search…this cell phone capture version is all I could find as I don’t know if the full “nice” version is even on YouTube. So, here’s what is so great about this ad: they turn their logo into eyes and mouths to show the iconic legacy of their shows – all the way back to I Love Lucy. Did you know I Love Lucy was on CBS? Me either. I always watched it on Nick at Nite – ha! It was a reminder of other great shows like The Price is Right, How I Met Your Mother, and The Big Bang Theory (which you know is one of my favorites). It is easy to forget what stations bring us our favorite shows (especially when reruns are now available on so many other services). So, associating themselves with all these iconic lines and moments helps people remember that they have brought great content and will continue to do so “Then, Now and Always.”

T-Mobile Series

T-Mobile also did a series of ads, and they showcased some great partnerships including free tacos from Taco Bell, free Lyft rides and other benefits on Tuesdays. However, their ads were so different from one to the next in the main part of the commercial that it might not have had the same impact as the simpler, “no corn syrup” approach from Bud Light. However, they are definitely showcasing reciprocity by giving free tacos and Lyft rides to their customers on Tuesdays.

Audi – Cashew Grandpa

This commercial had me confused for quite some time. And the good thing about confusion (when it is done right) is that it can create increased attention and interest. We are looking for the payoff – the dopamine release – and this one really delivered. It was funny and made you think about Audi in a different way. Consider the message…that “one third of all new Audi models will be electrified by 2025.” Talk about a long play. And now that they have established that heaven is full of electric Audis…they let you know you know you can “reserve yours now” which implies scarcity and loss aversion. Oh, and bonus points for using the line “electric has gone Audi” instead of saying “Audi has gone electric” – a subtle difference, but an important framing choice nonetheless.

Toyota – Toni Harris

Perhaps, as a woman, I am biased in my love of this ad, but I am ok with that. I love that Toyota went outside the norm and found someone going against the herd to align that same trait to their RAV4 Hybrid (and the whole Toyota brand). With nearly half of the audience being female, it is a great idea to cater some ads to the women in the audience. This ad also plays into our optimism bias, which is the feature of this week’s episode 34 (I will go back an link after it is live). We know it is hard work, but showcasing one woman who has defied the odds could inspire many young girls to go for their dreams too (no matter the obstacles) which is amazing. Will we all look at Toyota differently? I’m not sure, but for now, they have earned some serious points in my book.

Devour Frozen Food

This could be considered a risky one (the uncensored longer versions of this ad on YouTube are even more extreme). However, the shock value is done very well in this advertisement. Notice, if their name wasn’t “Devour” I don’t know that the message would work the same. If the brand was “Hungry Man” or “Amy’s Frozen Foods” it simply wouldn’t have the same impact when the line comes at the end of, “Never just eat, devour.” The word itself evokes an inability to control yourself, which is why he has an “addiction.” We also get into mirror neurons on this one, as well as taste, smell and sight. They also know their brand, and aren’t afraid to go all in, which helps sell the whole message. This is not something you can do halfway, so if you are going to go extreme, make sure you are ready to go whole-brand and dive in head first.

Alexa – Not Everything Makes The Cut

I loved this commercial. Harrison Ford interacting with the dog is hilarious. Forest Whitaker unable to listen to his podcast while his toothbrush is in his mouth – awesome. And the female lead delivered her lines flawlessly. It kept our attention, and it made a point. Amazon Alexa is innovative. They try a lot of things. They are constantly working and their reach goes beyond this world (all the way to space). Did they actually do all those things? Probably not. I don’t think any dog was actually able to order a pallet of dog food and gravy from its collar. Or that people on the space shuttle made the lights of the world turn on and off repeatedly. But, we just don’t know for sure, and our brain assumes Amazon may have done those things. Until proven otherwise, we believe this, it is how our herding brains work. We have now been primed to think of Amazon in a certain way (and while that pun was not intended…I appreciate it!) And, whether they intended it or not, their decision to include a Queen song when Bohemian Rhapsody came out this year was a great use of availability. Most of us who saw that movie have Queen neurons on high alert and ready to make new connections, and now Amazon Alexa is potentially burrowing itself in there. Well played.

Pepsi – Just Ok (A BE Fail)

While the extended version of this ad actually did a little better job…the problem with this ad is they spent a lot of time associating the words “Pepsi” and “ok” – which is bad. For our silly subconscious brains, we develop associations based on repetition, and the two words repeated the most and in closest proximity to each other were…that’s right…Pepsi = ok. There are better ways to get over the stigma than to repeat the word “ok” over and over again. They could have said, “Pepsi is like a basket full of puppies under a shooting star with Lil’ John and Cardi B” – but the constant repetition of “ok” is what will likely stick in the brain, and that is not what they were going for – especially those who have a Coke drinking habit and who choose it as a default. Watch out what words you use, because you might unintentionally be doing the exact opposite of what you intend in the mind of your consumer.

And there you have it! I hope you liked this post on the 2019 Super Bowl commercials and their ties to behavioral economics. Did I not cover one you really wanted analyzed? Did you have a favorite? Other thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

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