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These Were the Best and Worst Super Bowl 50 Ads

Carolina Panthers vs. Denver BroncosCarolina Panthers vs. Denver Broncos
DeMarcus Ware (94) of the Denver Broncos hoists the trophy in a crowd of teammates and family after the game. The Denver Broncos played the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. on February 7, 2016.Photograph by Joe Amon — Denver Post via Getty Images

Sunday’s Denver-Carolina showdown, which aired on CBS, delivered the second highest overnight rating on the record for the Super Bowl — behind only last year. Based on Nielsen’s metered markets, the game averaged a 49.0 rating, meaning that 49% of U.S. homes with TV sets had the game turned on, compared with the previous year’s 49.7%.

With such a huge audience, it’s no surprise why companies pay big to advertise during the biggest game of the year. As professors of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, we think businesses have a lot to learn from these ads. So here’s our take of who fumbled and who nailed it based on what 65 of our MBA students had to say.

Hit: Toyota’s nails it with bank robbers
Toyota (TM) aired an execution for the Prius that followed the shenanigans of four bank robbers as they tried to elude the law. The spot was playful and engaging, but just as important, it featured the brand prominently and showcased various features of the vehicle, such as its nimbleness and agility. The spot held the viewer’s attention for over a minute and landed Toyota as the top brand in our review.

Miss: Squarespace leaves us with a big question mark
Squarespace repeated its performance last year and earned the only F in our review. The execution was confusing, as it left us wondering what the product was for and why it should be used. This type of confusion should be of concern for any brand to give pause and ask what the Super Bowl should be doing for them.

Hit: T-Mobile’s Steve Harvey fumble
T-Mobile (TMUS) entered with a pair of spots that used humor to demonstrate its point of difference relative to the competition. The first spot, featuring Steve Harvey, poked fun at the comedian’s public fumble over the crowning of Miss Universe. The second spot, featuring Drake, pointed out all the reasons why T-Mobile might be a better option than other carriers. Both spots also made strong connections to the brand.

Miss: LG forgets its message
LG had what we would call a very high concept piece. In fact, it’s a beautiful piece of work on many levels. The problem arises with the fact that people missed the brand’s message and had strong concerns about the ability of the ad to penetrate and seep into consumers’ minds. This ad teaches us that distinction is useful, but it is only part of the formula for a Super Bowl-worthy ad.

Hit: Doritos’s in utero baby
Doritos, in what is said to be its last Crash the Super Bowl adventure, ran two spots. The first spot emphasized the desirability of the chip by showing an in utero baby react to it and then deciding it was time to be born. The second spot showcased the desirability of the chip using dogs conspiring to get the chips. In both spots, the story showcased the brand and the benefit — two critical elements for what makes an ad work.

Miss: Acura plays it too safe

The Acura ad struck many as a typical car commercial. The problem is being typical in the Super Bowl means major concerns about attention and recall by consumers. The execution might be extremely persuasive in another venue, but it will likely be among the forgotten Super Bowl ads this year.

Hit: Audi goes to space
Auto automaker aired one ad that focused on a former astronaut sitting in a chair apparently longing for one more flight. He is then taken to the R8 as his new metaphorical “spaceship” and the launch sequence and ensuing performance is demonstrated. Audi had a clear message about the power of the vehicle, but it also garnered attention by being one of the few spots that hit a more serious note, which set it a part from most of the other Super Bowl ads. At the same time, the ending was whimsical enough to prevent the ad from being too negative for consumers to enjoy.

Miss: forgets its audience had some interesting talent, and the beginning of the execution garnered some interest in where the ad was going. A core problem arose when the ad finished, leaving some viewers wondering about both the category (i.e., what does the service do) and the benefit (i.e., why is it better than other options). With a Super Bowl audience of more than 110 million, the exact function and benefit of the product are priorities.

Hit: TurboTax’s can’t go wrong with a celebrity
Featuring actor Anthony Hopkins, TurboTax had a playful ad that assured viewers it was not an ad. Yet, TurboTax was featured prominently via the name of Hopkins’ dog and the sweater it wore. The tongue-in-cheek nature of it appeared well calibrated to the panel and this approach was distinct from other ads in how humor was used.

Tim Calkins is a clinical professor of marketing at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Derek D. Rucker is the Sandy and Morton Goldman Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies in Marketing at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. To learn more about the Kellogg School Super Bowl Ad Review, visit here.