Everyone has opinions about Super Bowl spots. But Peter Daboll, CEO of ad analytics company Ace Metrix, has the data to back his up. Since 2010, Ace Metrix has analyzed every national TV ad—it says it's collected more than 80,000 ads from 2,500 brands across 112 categories—which puts Daboll in a pretty good position to opine on what works and what doesn't. As advertisers begin gearing up for the Big Game, we asked, and he delivered. This interview has been edited and condensed.
So how does Ace Metrix do its analyses?
We test every ad as close to its first airing as possible with 500 viewers. We ask nine simple questions and essentially score on things like attention, emotion, message delivery, information content and relevance. And we get verbatim comments from viewers on what they thought about the ad, which can be very telling.
What are the biggest mistakes brands make when it comes to their big game advertising?
Treating this as only a high-reach opportunity. It's unique in that the reach is so high, but it's also unique in that people are actually paying attention to the ads more so than they do normally. Advertisers have to make sure that the ad delivers.
What do you think most creatives get wrong about these ads?
The majority get it right. Super Bowl ads are usually good at telling a great story, delivering on an emotional message or some inspiring kind of heartwarming thing, or at being funny.
Is there a secret formula?
No—which is why the best formula is really to test it a lot. Whatever creative angle you're taking, make sure it works, and don't just test against your target [demographics]. That's another mistake people make. They don't realize that the Super Bowl reaches absolutely everyone.
What works best in these ads? Is it humor, is it celebrities...?
Celebrities work when they're really well woven into the storyline. The best example is Snickers when it used Betty White. Humor works great. But there are great examples of heartwarming ads too. There's lots of different paths to greatness, that's the best part of this.
Should Super Bowl spots get political?
We all have a heightened sense of politics [right now]. You can't have anything political, even remotely political, that doesn't come across as polarizing. I would try to stay away from that, especially this year. People are worn out. I would go for humor this year as opposed to some kind of deep social messaging.
Given the NFL anthem controversy, is a marketer, merely by buying time in the game, taking a pro-NFL stand?
I don't think the public views it that way. The ratings may be down a little bit, but it's still super-broad reach, the biggest media event in terms of audience of the year. I just don't think it's a real thing that if I advertise on the Super Bowl that I'm not supporting African-Americans or I am supporting whatever the stance is.
Which brands have aced the Super Bowl?
Snickers and Skittles tend to do pretty well on the humor side. Budweiser in its day, with the Clydesdales and the puppies, was incredibly moving and just great filmmaking. And the Jeep "Jurassic" one was also good, well produced. But every year you find a couple that just really miss the mark.
What's been the biggest flop?
The brands that use their regular, product-focused ads are missing an opportunity. Persil is a good example. You just have a guy advertising whiter whites. So what? You see those ads 100 times a day.
Do you think the game is worth the price?
I do. The reasons I do are the reach, the preprogrammed attention and then the life of the ad after the game. We're still seeing ads that are recut Super Bowl spots running now. They get a lot of mileage out of these things if they're done right.
What's your all-time favorite Super Bowl spot?
I'd have to say it's the Budweiser Clydesdales [2013's "Brotherhood"] where he's raising the Clydesdale and sells it and then the horse takes off and runs with Fleetwood Mac playing in the background. I don't think there was a dry eye in America.