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Arts & Culture

Scoring the Super Bowl Ads

Which Commercials Popped—and Which Flopped? 3 Marketing Experts Break Them Down

By Annie Krakower

Collage of screengrabs from Super Bowl ads: Baby Mr. Peanut, Bill Murray, John Krasinski, Rachel Dratch and Chris Evans, and Lil Nas X

Videos and screengrabs courtesy of Jeep, Hyundai, Doritos, Planters and Google

This year's Super Bowl ads included "Baby Peanut," a reimagining of Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day," actors speaking in their best Boston accents and a Western dancing showdown.

Dogs and groundhogs, a cute jacket-wearing avocado and a baby peanut, Cheetos and Doritos, and no shortage of celebrities. Even Tom Brady still showed up.

Companies that aired ads during Super Bowl LIV shelled out over $5 million  to grab an amplified audience’s attention for 30 seconds through the clever, the emotional or the just plain weird. Which strategies scored big, and which fumbled?

Maryland Today brought together three marketing experts from the Robert H. Smith School of Business to do a little Monday morning quarterbacking. Hank Boyd, a clinical professor whose research focuses on advertising effects and persuasion, Amna Kirmani, the Ralph J. Tyser Professor of Marketing and editor of the Journal of Consumer Research, and Judy Frels, a clinical professor who teaches marketing strategy, discussed which ads soared—and which bored. Here are five that stood out:

Jeep Gladiator | “Groundhog Day”

In a nod to the classic 1993 movie where Bill Murray relives the same day over and over, this ad (airing on Groundhog Day!) features the actor and a cute rodent pal in a similar situation, but with a twist.

Kirmani: “It certainly appealed to a target audience that had seen the first movie. So it’s an older audience, but it worked particularly well. It was such a good tie-in to the movie, and it kept repeating and showing Jeep over and over again, so I thought in that sense, it was extremely effective.”

Frels: “I thought it was so perfectly executed because every day that Bill Murray gets up, he gets more and more excited because he knows that he gets to drive the Jeep. By the end, he’s bounding out of bed.”

Hyundai Sonata | “Smaht Pahk”

Chris Evans, John Krasinski and Rachel Dratch—with some help from former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz—put on their thickest “Bah-ston” accents to show how the Hyundai Sonata’s self-parking feature is “wicked smart.” Drivers can even pahk their cah at the Habah!

Boyd: “The audience watching it says, ‘Yeah, I’m being entertained, but at the same time, that is a pretty cool feature to have on a car.’ And in Boston of all places, there are no parking spots.”

Frels: “They really address a true consumer problem. It was, ‘Here’s the problem, here’s the solution,’ a very classic advertising thing that we tend to think of as kind of boring … but they did it so brilliantly.”

Doritos | “The Cool Ranch feat. Lil Nas X and Sam Elliott”

The deep-voiced, mustachioed actor meets the smash hit “Old Town Road” singer for a Western dancing showdown to illustrate that “Doritos Cool Ranch just got cooler.” Billy Ray Cyrus even drops in for a cameo.

Boyd: “Sometimes, weird can be done right. ‘Old Town Road’ is for young people—my daughter knew right away, ‘Oh, that’s my song.’ And even my father who likes westerns thought it was wonderful. And having Sam Elliott in there because he’s been in so many westerns, that was fun.”

Frels: “But boy, pretty weak tie-in to Doritos. That was my concern about that one.”

Planters | “Baby Peanut”

In a previous ad teasing Planters’ Super Bowl spot, the beloved Mr. Peanut mascot falls off the side of a cliff to his death—drawing criticism around the death last week of NBA legend Kobe Bryant. During the big game, Planters aired a follow-up at the funeral, where a tear from Kool-Aid Man makes the character comes back to life  as a baby.

Kirmani: “I think if they had killed him and that was the funeral, that would have lived up to the suspense that they had created. But it gets reborn, and it’s like, ‘Ho hum. I’ve been manipulated.’”

Google | “Loretta”

Text rolls across the screen as a man uses Google Assistant to help him remember his late wife, Loretta, asking the technology to show him photos from anniversaries and trips and to take note of her most lovable qualities.

Boyd: “’Loretta’ was a wonderful spot for, like, my father. He’s at that point, I hate to say it, that you worry about losing your soulmate. If AI can allow you to keep that connection and remember what was great and wonderful and take you back in time to say, ‘Give me this picture. Remember this time,’ that speaks volumes in terms of the future and maybe the quality of care for those individuals, sadly, who might be alone in those last stages of life.”

Kirmani: “It was a clear tear-jerker. My daughter, who is 18, was sitting next to me and said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be sad right now. Don’t show me this.’ But I think it appealed, as Hank said, more to the older people, because older people may not be that much into the internet and so forth, and this gives you a reason, ‘Hey there’s something valuable in here that I hadn’t thought of.’”

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.