Super Bowl 50: From Budweiser and Skittles to Heinz - how our brains will have responded to the SB50 adverts

Heather Andrew
Were you this excited? (Source: Getty)

Super Bowl 50 is as much about the ads as the game, amid reports of brands paying up to $5m (£3.4m) for a 30 second slot.

With Denver Broncos scoring a decisive 24-10 victory against Carolina Panthers, advertisers will be hoping that their work also triumphed.

So which of these Super Bowl ads were the winners or losers from the brain’s point of view?

Budweiser: “Simply Put”

Actress Helen Mirren, Bud in hand, delivers a stern message about drink driving: “don’t be a pillock.” Rationally this ad ticks a lot of boxes: the drink-drive message is one that most people accept, delivered by an acting icon.

However, there is a question mark over the strength of the branding. While the product is present throughout, just before the final branding moment Mirren raises her glass and says ‘cheers’ – suggesting to our brains that the ad has ended, which could trigger a drop in response as the brain pauses to process what it has just seen.

In addition, the message is delivered confrontationally with Mirren staring sternly straight to camera. This sort of direct stare is highly threatening to the brain so the subconscious associations linked to the brand during the ad are likely to be negative.

Verdict: A compelling film, but likely to be an emotional MISS

Skittles: “Portrait”

Rock star Steven Tyler meets his portrait made from Skittles and embarks on a sing-off.

This ad gets lots of things right. Our brains love puzzles which help drive memory encoding: from the start this ad builds intrigue as viewers prepare for the big reveal of the Skittles portrait. The interaction between the painting and Tyler also creates a pattern for the brain to follow, helping with memory encoding.

Skittles’ branding is likely to come through as the story unfolds, with an early mention of Skittles, the portrait made of Skittles and the colourful end branding shots.

However, memory encoding isn’t everything. Memory is also coloured by what goes on around it; here the very surreal setting, and interactions could negatively impact on brand perceptions.

Verdict: A memory HIT, but hard to predict what the take-out is likely to be

Heinz: “Wiener Stampede”

A pack of dachshunds with hot dogs strapped to their backs run to meet humans dressed as Ketchup bottles, to '70s hit “Living without You”. It may seem bonkers but from the brain’s perspective this ad has a lot going for it.

The music combined with the slow-motion dogs creates intrigue which is likely to impact positively on memory, while the Heinz products are key to the storyline. Plus, evidence suggests that animals in ads tend to produce a positive emotional response.

Although memory response might drop mid-ad when there is no new info for the brain to encode, the grand finale when dog and products meet, resolves the storyline and is highly likely to make it strongly into memory.

Verdict: A HIT that’s likely to drive strong positive associations with the brand

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