Ranking The Super Bowl Ads With Kellogg MBAs: What Worked? What Didn’t?

MBA students at Kellogg ranked the Super Bowl ads, voting on what worked — and what definitely didn’t. Kellogg photo

While most Americans watch the Super Bowl for the football game and infamous halftime show, marketing students watch it for the ads.

This year, advertisers spent around $6.5M for a 30-second commercial spot on Super Bowl Sunday, which happened Feb, 13, 2022. For those in the Marketing MBA Pathway at Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, the unveiling of each brand’s commercial is a big deal; Not only do they get to see how companies spend their ad money in front of 100M people, it’s also when students get to evaluate each ad in real-time at the school’s 18th consecutive Kellogg School Super Bowl Advertising Review – which, according to MBA student Kate Sanner, is the perfect party for marketers. “It’s the most epic Super Bowl event, except instead of paying attention to the football game, everyone is silent while the ads are running because we’re meticulously taking notes on each,” she says.

Held at the Global Hub on campus, this event is organized by Kellogg Marketing Club’s Legacy Events Committee and moderated by two professors – Derek Rucker and Tim Calkins. About 65 student participants got the chance to apply rigorous, research-based criteria to determine which ads excelled and which missed the mark. This year, the winning ad was created by Uber Eats, with Doritos taking second place, and Planters taking third. Worst in the running were ads by Taco Bell, Salesforce, and Toyota Two Brothers.

“As someone who’s learning marketing, there’s a ton of lessons to learn from Super Bowl advertisements,” continues Sanner. “It provides some really good examples and also some cautionary tales from those who spent over $6M on a spot and produced an ad that won’t drive business.”


Kathryn Rambo

When evaluating each ad, students use ADPLAN – a framework developed by Professor Rucker that stands for attention, distinction, positioning, linkage, amplification, and net equity. While this is the official criteria used in the rankings, ADPLAN’s purpose extends beyond the Advertising Review event; it’s meant to help students think critically about advertising beyond graduation. “The ADPLAN framework is helpful to make sure that ads aren’t only entertaining – they’re actually driving business,” says Sanner.

The week before the Advertising Review, students go through an ADPLAN training so that they can show up to game day ready to pay close attention to each commercial. “The framework helps you to look at ads objectively,” adds Kathryn Rambo, Kellogg MBA student and Legacy Events Committee co-VP. “I was so impressed by Professor Rucker, especially at halftime when we were breaking down the ads that we’ve seen back-to-back and ranking them. He can analyze things so quickly using a strategic lens.”


Ranking number one in the Advertising Review was the Uber Eats ad – an ad that showcases what you can order on Uber Eats beyond food, which they call the ‘Uber Don’t Eats.’ Featuring Jennifer Coolidge, Trevor Noah, Gwyneth Paltrow and Nick Braun from ‘Succession,’ Sanner says that this ad’s creative execution was both funny and compelling. “We were laughing throughout the entire thing, but what we were laughing at was the things that you shouldn’t eat. This directly delivered the value proposition of them delivering things that aren’t food,” she explains.

“When we think about product and positioning, they won by showing a service that people are already familiar with, but by introducing a new way you could use it,” adds Rambo. “Plus, you knew it was Uber Eats from the very beginning of the commercial. Then, they kept referring to it throughout the entire ad and it played into their other campaigns, so it worked from a net equity standpoint.”


Kate Sanner

Compared to last year, Sanner was surprised how little conversation there was around covid. “Last year, it was like every brand was coming out with their perspective on covid, and there were a lot of tearjerkers and commentary about the mood and tone of the U.S. at that moment,” she says.

This year, the students noticed a couple of key themes: nostalgia and humor.

In many ads, Sanner commented that old characters – such as those from Austin Powers and The Sopranos – were making a comeback. In others, there was a huge focus on humor – such as in the second-place winning ad, ‘Flamin’ Hot’ by Doritos. “There were more ads this year that were going for the punchline,” says Rambo. “They were trying to get the hook with the humor, which I missed last year.”


For Sanner, the Advertising Review isn’t her first experience analyzing ads; Before she started her MBA, she spent seven years on the Bud Light team at Anheuser-Busch. There, she was a brand director and got experience working on Super Bowl campaigns. “There’s so much work and anticipation that goes into a Super Bowl spot,” she says. “When I watch the ads now, I’m thinking about the people behind them and the fact that they’ve spent the last six months of their lives working crazy hours and getting ready for a few seconds on the national stage.”

She came to Kellogg with hopes to pivot into working with startups and growth stage companies. “I want to counter my skills from a big company and test my chops at a smaller startup,” she says.

Rambo also came to Kellogg in order to make a career pivot; after working at a marketing agency in a sports sponsorship strategy role where she was responsible for making recommendations to her clients, she realized that she wanted to have more of a direct impact. With that goal in mind, she was able to land an internship – and subsequent full-time job post-graduation – at Frito-Lay. “Even aside from Kellogg’s recruiting resources and events like the Advertising Review, every single one of my classes will directly apply to what I’m doing in my future career.”


For Rambo, the Advertising Review showed her the importance of testing ads and getting input from different parties. “Participating in an event like this reminds you that people are going to react differently to ads,” she says.

Sanner says that her biggest learning from ranking each ad is that it’s not enough to simply entertain. “The best marketers marry their strategic goals with great execution. And when you can do that in a creative way, that’s where the magic happens,” says Sanner.

“It’s such an accomplishment for anyone to put out a Super Bowl ad and I can’t help but celebrate all of the people that are realizing this moment in their careers,” says Sanner.


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