The Super Bowl Winner? Mr. Clean, Say MBAs

2017 Super Bowl Ad Review at the Kellogg School of Management

Call it a breakneck simulation that puts a new spin on Kellogg’s vaunted experiential learning methodology. Here, students quickly adopt the framework, spitting out grades instead of devoting time to carefully poring over and calibrating every detail like they would in a classroom. That was initially a challenge for Anita Prasad, a 2nd year who will be joining Intuitive Surgical in product marketing and management after graduation. “The trickiest part of the experience was having to grade the ads really quickly. There was kind of a funny silence that would fall on the room the moment when the ads started playing.”

This transition period is a rite of passage, however. Like most participants, Prasad found that practice made perfect as repetition made the full framework become clearer. “As the game went on, I was getting better-and-better at internalizing the whole ADPLAN framework,” she admits. “There are some elements that are easier to judge right off the bat, particularly the attention and distinction piece — those two kind of hit you really quickly.”

Marco de la Torre


Beyond reinforcing what they learned in real time, the ADPLAN framework also provided a structure and consistency in dissecting Super Bowl spots. That was one reason why Marco de la Torre appreciated the tool so much. A 2nd year who decided to follow his passion for branding after interning in consulting over the summer, de la Torre believes that it is difficult to objectively judge spots without a more disciplined methodology guiding students.

“People have a tendency to vote for the ads that make them laugh the most,” he explains. “The ADPLAN framework is great because it reminds you that an ad, at the end of the day, is an opportunity for this company to try to sell you on the benefits of a product. If all that they’re doing is getting laughs, then they’re failing. They’re not really informing the consumer why they should go into the store to purchase their product. The ad is running so fast that you have to not only evaluate it off your immediate emotion, but also think about what’s the business objective behind it and where it is succeeding or failing.”

The lure of cheap laughs and heart-tugging imagery wasn’t the only temptation that Kellogg students faced during the Super Bowl Ad Review. Prasad also struggled with viewing the ad in the moment and in context. “It was definitely tricky to keep remembering that you are only evaluating the ads and we are not looking at the whole social media or ad campaign presentation or anything like that,” she notes. “Keeping that in mind, I was really looking to how these spots tied back to the brand strategy and how they’re building the brand. When you tear away all the other pieces and just focus on the ad and the connection to the brand, you get into a better rhythm with it.”

2017 Kellogg Super Bowl Ad Review Grades


So how did 2017 shake out for Super Bowl advertisers? According to Rucker, none of the advertisers merited a failing grade. In fact, he, along with most of his students, felt the ads were more “brand-focused” than in years past. Rucker had also expected that this year’s crop would trend towards the safe side — and his prediction was realized. “The ads were much more culturally relevant and inclusive in nature,” he says. “They tried to build bridges and stayed away from the political scene, which makes sense in such a charged atmosphere. You have over 100 million people. You don’t want to play favorites. Whoever you compliment, you’re going to offend the other.”

So which brands connected theory with practice, burst through the clutter, and successfully executed their concept? Rucker points to Kellogg students dishing out seven A’s, with Mr. Clean, Bai, and Febreze  standing out from the rest due to their strategy, which enabled them to grab attention, make a statement, and build brand.

For Prasad, Mr. Clean stood out for its brand equity, harkening back to its heritage by prominently featuring its namesake in a cheeky and modern way. At the same time, de la Torre lauded the ad for its positioning and clarity. “At the end of the day, the ad needs to tell you what they’re selling, who it’s meant for, and what the benefit is. The positioning was super strong. We know who the target audience is. That’s the key here. The brand knows who is making that ultimate purchasing decision here and really leads into it. They also make it very clear what the product category is. They show that product throughout. They demonstrate what the benefit is. As much as Mr. Clean was distracting, the ad itself shows how effective the product is at removing the dirt that they were cleaning. It also showed that cleaning can be delightful, especially if it is something you’re doing together with a loved one. I thought this ad, besides being very funny and attention-grabbing, had very strong positioning.”

“It’s well-branded and strong across all the dimensions,” Rucker adds. “That’s a spot that makes sense to bring to the Super Bowl.”

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