Touchdown for Super Bowl Auto Ads? [2014 Edition]

Super Bowl Stock Photo

Image from: Super Bowl 2014 / Shutterstock

The 2014 Super Bowl has come and gone but hopefully for advertisers the commercials made a lasting impression.  Certainly there’s enough ancillary coverage of the ads through the general media rating the ads as well as pre- and post-game exposure in social media.  And of course, running ads in the Super Bowl is a notch on the gun for marketing executives and agencies.

Continuing our own Super Bowl tradition, Millward Brown Digital compared un-aided self-reported ad recollection with changes in in-market automotive shopper volume to inform whether the ads were productive in driving new vehicle demand among in-market shoppers.  [This analysis compliments our earlier week-by-week, site-specific assessments of changes in consumer behavior.

First Down: Recollection                                                                                              

Millward Brown Digital surveyed consumers on which auto brand first came to mind when remembering the 2014 Super Bowl.  Respondents (573 total) could choose any brand.  Of those that watched the game, nearly one in five reported Chevrolet, followed by Ford at 15%.  But each brand used very different tactics: Chevrolet ran two 60-second ads; Ford ran none during the game, though ran ads pre-game[1].  Ford made the top 10 in 2013 and 2012 as well, again not advertising nationally during the game.   All other 2014 top-10s advertized during the game.

Leading Auto Brand Recalled Feb 2014

Most of the brands in the 2014 top 10 have been there before.  The biggest boom from the smallest gun has to be Maserati.  Its capture of 3.6% of respondents is stunning for a brand that generally has low awareness and captured an average of just 0.3% of in-market shoppers in 2013.  Jaguar, like Maserati, also ran its first Super Bowl ad ever, but ranked #14/1.8%.

Second Down: Changes in Recollection Over Time

As advertising brands seek to one-up each other, the net impact appears to be less break-through for the leading brands each year.  In 2011, the top ten brands’ recollection totaled 83% of all respondents.  By 2014, that dropped to only 74%, a 9-point drop in just 3 years.  It may be that Super Bowl ads are becoming more “equal” over time (more share for brands outside of the top 10), or it may be that expectations by consumers are so high it’s a harder bar to truly break through.  Whatever the cause, the recall success of being a top 10 recollected brand has softened over time.

Concentration of Recollection Share Auto Feb 2014Some individual brands have had notable changes in recollection over time.  For example, the impact of Ram’s much-touted 2013 “Farmer” ad is evidenced by the big spike in recollection that year; Ram did not advertise in the 2014 Super Bowl.  In contrast, Chrysler has advertised most years except 2013 (Ram and Chrysler part of the same corporate family).  Chrysler’s return, based on two 60-second spots with Bob Dylan, was not as noteworthy as in earlier years (such as 2011’s Eminem/Made in Detroit debut).   That may refelct the relative draw of included celebrities.

Chrysler was #2 in 2011 followed by VW at #3 (with the Darth Vader spot).  Since then, VW has lost ground.  Its ads seemed to general a lot of attention, but its recollection results dropped from 10.8% in 2011 to 3.2% in 2014.  Any ad’s results are tied to creative, timing during the game, number of exposures, etc.  In 2014, VW ran one 60-second spot.

Trended Recollection Auto Feb 2014

As noted above, Maserati’s top-10 recollection results are impressive given its small share of in-market demand.  Even more impressive is how its demand share changed after the game.  Maserati’s SMI (Share of Market Interest increased over 40% m-o-m—pacing all top 10 brands.  SMI) is a brand’s share of all in-market shoppers.  As a relative measure, it accounts for changes in overall market demand.

Top 10 Ad Recollection Brands Auto Feb 2014

Relative to recollection, Kia and Audi also showed positive results (meaning bigger gains in SMI relative to recollection share).  That may be because of great ads or because the Super Bowl spots were part of broader campaigns by those brands.  Several top 10 recollection brands actually lost ground relative to the market, including Honda, Chrysler, Toyota, and Chevrolet.  SMIs for Volkswagen, Hyundai and Ford were essentially flat.

Overall there was a negative correlation in 2014 (trend line), meaning the lower a brand’s recollection share, the higher its SMI results.  This suggests that overall the 2014 ads were not successful in motivating their target audiences—independent of whether consumers liked the ads.  Or it may mean that softness in the market in general overcame any potential lift from game ads.  The same thing happened on 2012.  However, in 2011 and 2013, the results positively correlated, meaning that betting on a Super Bowl’s success to drive demand is never guaranteed.

Fourth Down: The Rest of the Story

This is the fourth year for this Super Bowl analysis and like the game itself results vary from year to year.  In some years correlations are positive, others are negative.  There are the usual suspects and there are breakthroughs (Maserati).  Ford stand out for high recollection results without advertising—at least during the game.  Clearly this analysis is just a warm-up.  To win the game, more end-zone research is needed, such as:

  • Identify whether Super Bowl ads in general are losing their effectiveness and are losing demand impact in favor of entertainment impact?
    • Integrate changes in favorability with changes in recollection and  demand
    • Consider total exposure time during the game and timing (total number of ads and length, when they ran during the game, etc.)
    • Assess whether consumers are connecting the ads to brands
  • Contextualize Super Bowl results based on total ad spend for each brand during the month
    • Was the Super Bowl the sole exposure or part of a much broader effort?
  • Leverage latent ad impacts relative to changes in demand in subsequent months
  • Identify purchase impacts based on trending each brand’s ability to convert changes in demand into positive changes in sales
  • Identify Ford’s “secret”:  How does it consistently rank in the top 10 with no ads during the game?
    • Is it regional or dealer tactics?  Are they advertising during other Super Bowl-related programs?  Are they using non-TV including digital instead?

Download a .pdf version of the study here!


[1] Some brands, regional groups, and dealer groups may have run regional ads that could impact recollection results.

About Lincoln Merrihew:
Lincoln Merrihew is the Senior Vice President of Transportation at Millward Brown Digital. At Millward Brown Digital, Lincoln is responsible for steering the Transportation Team, which encompasses the automotive and travel practices. Before Lincoln joined the Millward Brown Digital team, he worked at TNS Custom leading the Automotive team, and then continued on there to lead business development for 10 different industry verticals. Lincoln's career aspiration is to create game-changing solutions and insights. Connect with Lincoln on LinkedIn.