Bowl poll: Ads don't mean sales

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The best and most memorable Super Bowl commercials are not always the most persuasive when it comes to selling the product, according to a study of Super Bowl XXXV ads by market research firm Greenfield Online and Advertising Age.

To determine how viewers' perceptions of aired commercials changed over time, online research was done pregame, immediately postgame and several days later, to measure message recall and message association.

Pregame research found 54% of respondents were "looking forward" to the commercials, and 57% of all respondents were able to identify companies they had "heard or read" were going to be running commercials during the event.

The immediate postgame survey, available on, found the top five "most liked" spots were Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser, Pepsi-Cola Co.'s Pepsi, Volkswagen, E-Trade and Frito-Lay's Doritos. Three days later, respondents listed the same five spots as "most liked." The latest survey also asked respondents which of the 40 commercials they recalled; not surprisingly, the top "most liked" spots were also the ads most likely to be recalled, if not in the same order.

However, when asked which products they were "extremely" or "very" likely to purchase as a result of seeing a Super Bowl commercial, respondents chose only one of the top five "most liked" products-Frito-Lay's Doritos. Volk-swagen and Cingular Wireless were even voted the least likely products respondents would purchase. Of those that recalled the ads, 44% were likely to buy at Subway Restaurants and 41% were likely to buy Doritos and M&M/Mars' Snickers Cruncher.

Even if respondents recalled an advertising slogan-E-Trade's "Invest wisely" was the most widely recalled, with 29%-only about half of those respondents, 48%, were able to identify E-Trade correctly as the advertiser. A nearly equal proportion, 42%, thought it was another company's tagline, and 30% were convinced the slogan belonged to Charles Schwab & Co.

"I was struck particularly by the message association, that it was so extraordinarily confused," said Julius Litman, VP-media research services for Greenfield Online. "I'm sure the ad people know this full well, but it must be disappointing for Verizon to find out that its `Simple. Affordable. National' slogan was in some cases associated with as many as 13 other companies." Verizon's slogan drew a dismal 12% recall rate, and only 25% of those respondents were able to identify Verizon Wireless with the tagline.

"But the other thing to remember is that even though the recall was low in some instances, it may be that the successful recall existed among the target audience. The target audience could very well be small but effective," Mr. Litman said, adding that he hopes to refine results in further research to determine who remembers specific commercials.

Each survey drew a separate sample of 500 respondents who saw some or all of the game. The most recent survey drew a 50:50 male/female split; 56% were age 25-54. As with the first survey, the majority (76%) said "they usually watch a few NFL games each season" or "try to watch as many NFL games as they can." At each stage of the survey, participants were an evenly balanced mix of men and women, football fans but not fanatics, who are generally considered to be active consumers.

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