Budweiser Super Bowl Ads Beaten by VW, Doritos & Mini Cooper, Say MBAs

by John A. Byrne on

Kellogg MBA students grade the Super Bowl ads

Kellogg MBA students, assisted by two marketing profs, grade yesterday's Super Bowl ads

It cost advertisers as much as $3 million for a 30-second spot on yesterday’s Super Bowl game watched by the largest television audience in the U.S. But according to MBA students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, at least five companies wasted their money.

The students gave Lipton Brisk’s ad a flunking grade of F for its 30-second ad featuring an animated Eminem puppet. It also didn’t think very much of the Super Bowl ads by Kia, Go Daddy, Hyundai, and HomeAway, all of which got D grades from the MBAs. For Go Daddy, it was the third consecutive year that MBAs from Kellogg gave the web domain company a thumbs down grade.

The big winner this year was Volkswagen, which earned top marks for its “Beetle” and “Star Wars” ads. Other top-ranked advertisers for 2011 included Chrysler, Doritos, E-Trade, Mini Cooper, and Bridgestone. All six companies were given grades of A by the 40 Kellogg students who participated in the review.

The scoring came in the seventh annual Kellogg School Super Bowl Advertising Review, a contest that befits the school’s reputation as the major B-school player in marketing. Unlike most assessments that rank ads on the basis of their popularity, the Kellogg review evaluates advertisers on key factors to drive sales and favorably impact a company’s bottom line. All ads are ranked on the following criteria: attention, distinction, positioning, linkage, amplification and net equity.

“This was definitely the year of the auto and it was reflected with the panel’s top two advertisers being automakers — Volkswagen and Chrysler,” said Tim Calkins, a Kellogg marketing professor, who leads the event with a panel of Kellogg students. “At Kellogg, our Review evaluates the ads based on strategic execution and the potential to build brands.”

One of the world’s biggest advertisers, Budweiser, one of the world’s biggest advertising spenders, was given a B by the MBAs for its four spots for Bud and Bud Light. “The Bud Light spots were very consistent with the brand’s equity; they were funny, brand-focused and entertaining,” said Calkins in a blog post. “The best of the bunch was one about product placement. Some of the others didn’t work quite as well. Strategically, Budweiser made a huge shift. In prior years, Bud ran ads that featured the Clydesdales and sweet stories. The spots built the brand, certainly, but didn’t deliver a clear and concrete product benefit. This year, Bud tried to keep the Clydesdales while linking the Budweiser brand to a benefit of great times. The spot was quite effective; the benefit came through while the equity remained. The spot won’t be remembered as one of the most endearing Bud Clydesdale ads, but it might actually do more to build the brand than some of the earlier, more imagery-based ads.”

The least effective spot on the 2011 Super Bowl, according to the Kellogg panel, was for Brisk. “The Brisk spot simply made very little sense; it featured flashy computer-generated graphics, branding was weak and it lacked a clear message…other than that Eminem is a fan of Brisk,” wrote Calkins in a blog post today (Feb. 7). “Apparently the spot was created with substantial input from Eminem, make what you will of that.”

Launched in 2005, the review is an annual event in which faculty and students from Kellogg gather to evaluate Super Bowl advertising by ranking ads based on academic criteria. The panel is comprised of Kellogg Marketing Club students and is led by marketing professors Calkins and Derek Rucker.

As is common, advertising slots sold out well in advance for Super Bowl XLV. To marketers, the Super Bowl is the biggest television event of the year and has increasingly become one of the best opportunities to reach a mass audience. Viewership numbers – now exceeding 100 million – continue to grow even as the rest of the media landscape has become increasingly fragmented.

Armed with a strategic framework in mind, Kellogg MBA students gave the top ranking to Volkswagen because it drove home its strong branding with clever creative. Volkswagen edged out fellow “A” grade advertisers. The panel found them VW’s  “fun and simple.” Wrote Calkins: “The first spot featured a child dressed as Darth Vader and the Passat. The second spot portrayed a beetle zooming around the forest, supporting, of course, the functionality of the Beetle while also laddering to an emotional benefit. These spots weren’t strategically complex but they were very effective at communicating a benefit. In addition, they were very consistent with the VW brand.”

“AN ASTONISHING AND BREAKTHROUGH PIECE OF ADVERTISING.”

Despite declaring VW the winner, the panel and Calkins reserved its most effusive praise for Chrysler, calling its two-minute gritty ad featuring Detroit and Eminem “an astonishing and breakthrough piece of advertising.”

“Many car ads feature smiling people, happy scenes and shiny cars,” said Calkins. “This ad showed abandoned buildings and a forlorn, desperate city. The spot ended with the very strange line: ‘Imported from Detroit.’ But the ad worked. The creative hooked people, so they stuck with it for two minutes. It was distinctive, so it stood out. The spot gave the rather nondescript Chrysler brand a heart and a spirit.”

“The Super Bowl is the biggest live event for reaching the widest audience of consumers,” added Derek D. Rucker, associate professor of marketing, who also leads the review. “Some advertisers, including Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Bud Light integrated social media campaigns to extend their $3 million investments beyond a 30-second spot. However, while their campaigns were robust, the Super Bowl spots ranked in the middle of our results.”

HomeAway’s mediocre grade would come as a surprise to readers of Kellogg’s Super Bowl Advertising Review blog because only a few days before the big event, marketing prof Calkins praised the company’s spot in a blog post entitled “HomeAway’s Smart Strategy.” A website where people can post their vacation homes to rent, HomeAway’s ad was its second stab at Super Bowl advertising. “The question for HomeAway is this,” wrote Calkins on Feb. 1: “Should the company position itself as the best vacation rental website (a narrow frame)? Or should it communicate that renting a home is the best family vacation experience (a broad frame)? For the Super Bowl, HomeAway decided to promote the latter and advertise the benefits of renting a home—a smart decision.

“First, this strategy can build the business; home rentals are still a small market, so there is considerable upside in growing the entire category. Second, by attacking hotels on the Super Bowl, HomeAway is establishing itself as the leader in the online home rental category. Third, vacation home owners will value HomeAway’s efforts to drive interest in renting homes. In a sense, this strategy will provide two benefits for HomeAway: grow the category and build share versus other rental sites. The campaign is creative and generally on strategy.”

His students obviously disagreed in giving the ad one of its lowest scores: a D. In retrospect, conceded Calkins in his blog post,” the spot clearly missed the mark: it was hard to follow and featured a rather disconcerting smushed baby. The ad also promoted the “Ministry of Detourism” which made little sense. As one Kellogg panelist observed, ‘If you are renting a house, you are still a tourist. I don’t get it.’”

Kellogg School Super Bowl Advertising Review2011 Rankings by grade

ADVERTISER 2011 GRADE
Volkswagen A
Chrysler A
Doritos A
E-Trade A
Mini Cooper A
Bridgestone A
Audi B
CareerBuilder B
Mars B
Best Buy B
Stella Artois B
Bud Light B
Mercedes-Benz C
Cars.com C
Coca Cola C
Pepsi Max C
CarMax C
Teleflora C
General Motors C
Groupon C
Motorola C
BMW C
Skechers C
Kia D
Go Daddy D
Hyundai D
HomeAway D
Lipton Brisk F
  • http://www.thommitchell.com Thom Mitchell

    Wow, not sure how you came up with those rankings but Groupon’s C is just plain wrong.. Their choice to target Tibet for a social ad parody was not only in poor taste but also poor strategy because it will present problems for them as they try to expand in China.
    Your choice to lump Stella Artois in the same realm as Bud Light is truly questionable – especially in light that both are ABInBev brands. Stella chose to engage the women in the audience with a very different ad while Budlight beat the same old tired cliches to death. And the Chrysler Ad may have been groundbreaking, but I would question it’s effectiveness outside of the Midwestern rust belt.
    Here’s my full breakdown of the 2011 Superbowl Ads.
    http://www.thommitchell.com/2011/02/07/2011-superbowl-ad-breakdown/

  • McDruid

    I polled three classes, about 90 students, the day after the Super Bowl. Not a single one was able to identify the car being advertised in the Darth Vader spot. Cute commercial, but it didn’t do the job.

  • Bruce Vann

    But I bet they recognized the company. Wasn’t it VW?

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