02.01.11

20 Most Effective Super Bowl Ads

As companies prepare to spend millions tonight, The Daily Beast analyzes which big game commercials—from tackled grannies to streaking sheep—actually worked. View the best—and the worst.

As marketers prepare to spend millions tonight, The Daily Beast analyzes which big game commercials—from tackled grannies to streaking sheep—actually worked. View the best—and the worst. Plus, watch 14 banned Super Bowl ads.

Still think Super Bowl ads aren't as big as the game itself? Betty White experienced a major career revival after playing the cranky alter ego of a hungry twentysomething backyard football player in an instant-classic Snickers ad from last year's Super Bowl, becoming one of the top Internet memes of 2010—and a case study on the power of the Super Bowl ad, which this year will cost advertisers as much as $3 million for a 30-second spot.

Monday morning quarterbacks will sort out which ads were creatively the best and worst this year, but in advertising it really all comes down to the bottom line: Does the ad help move product?

Gallery: The 20 Most Effective Super Bowl Ads

To try to quantify which ads actually did that, The Daily Beast analyzed 292 Super Bowl advertisements from the past six years—the richest data only dates to 2005—piggybacking on our work from last year. We expanded our best-of list from 15 to 19—Budweiser was the Super Bowl ad king last year, but this year the King of Beers shares top billing with the King of Crunch, Doritos, which snagged four of the five new places for most effective ads, and six overall.

"The best-scoring ads always tell a story with a beginning and an end, and a climax," says Glenn Kessler, president and CEO, HCD Research. Indeed, the most effective ads on our list are those that use a product within a narrative, whether in a humorous way or not. Even better than telling a story is adding a call to action, says Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

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Here's how we scored each ad's effectiveness. First, we accounted for the USA Today Ad Meter rankings for 2005-2010—an ad's likability is the first step toward getting new customers. Then we compared the share price of the parent company for the Friday before the Super Bowl to the average price the month after, modeled after a 2009 study that found a correlation between Super Bowl ads and share prices. (The majority of Super Bowl advertisers are owned by public companies; the median share price change was applied to privately owned companies.) Then, we factored in mentions of the product in major U.S. newspapers and on television news shows for the month before and after the ad aired. Finally, we included scores from the annual Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review, which evaluates each brand based on marketing criteria that try to translate branding into sales. All factors were weighted equally.