Barry McNamara  |   Published February 09, 2021

Best Super Bowl Ads

Monmouth College students don’t declare a clear winner among commercials that aired during Sunday’s NFL championship game.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College students weren’t as impressed by a pair of Super Bowl commercials as the national ranking metric from USA Today, not decisively listing a pair of Rocket Mortgage ads as the best they saw during Sunday’s NFL championship game.

AND THE WINNER IS: Two Rocket Mortgage commercials, both starring Tracy Morgan, came in first and... AND THE WINNER IS: Two Rocket Mortgage commercials, both starring Tracy Morgan, came in first and second in USA Today's annual ranking of Super Bowl ads.Monmouth business professor Tom Prince told the class that the two Rocket Mortgage ads, both titled “Certain Is Better” and starring comedian Tracy Morgan, did something only one other company had accomplished in the era of Super Bowl advertising by claiming the top two spots.

“Students aren’t the target audience for that campaign,” said Prince to the upperclassmen taking his 300-level class advertising class. “But it was a very good buy for Rocket Mortgage. Housing is a very aggressive market right now.”

Prince’s students couldn’t decide on an overall winner. An informal class poll showed a preference to ads by M&M (starring Dan Levy, who had hosted Saturday Night Live the night before), Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade (with raining lemons), General Motors (starring Will Ferrell) and Toyota, in addition to Rocket Mortgage.

The Toyota ad, titled “Upstream,” falls into the category of what Prince called “an emotional appeal,” as it featured Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long with the message “there is hope and strength in all of us.”

Jeep’s ‘relatively inexpensive ad’

Prince spent several minutes of the class talking about another ad with an emotional appeal – Jeep’s two-minute commercial featuring Bruce Springsteen. At a cost of $5 million per 30 seconds, Jeep spent more than $20 million to air the spot, which Prince told the class was filmed just days ago over a four-day period and was an extremely rare endorsement by the legendary musician.

“Even at $5 million for 30 seconds, a Super Bowl commercial that reaches 100 million viewers still only costs about a nickel per person reached.” Tom Prince

Despite its sentiment of “meeting in the middle” – with the spot being filmed in the very center of the lower 48 states in Lebanon, Kansas – the ad still brought division. Ad Age called the commercial “a work of art,” while others, especially some on social media, weren’t impressed with the politicization of Jeep. As the ad correctly states, “The middle has been a hard place to get to lately.”

“There are two completely different camps on this ad,” said Prince.

But one thing that most can agree on is that Jeep got its money’s worth. Even with the price tag of four 30-second spots, the company reached a significant number of viewers. About 96 million people watched the game on broadcast television, and the commercial, titled “The Middle,” has attracted a whopping 37 million online views and counting by Tuesday afternoon.

“Even at $5 million for 30 seconds, a Super Bowl commercial that reaches 100 million viewers still only costs about a nickel per person reached,” said Prince. “So it was a relatively inexpensive ad for Jeep to run with all the viewership they got on TV and are getting online. Still, Jeep took a big risk. Now we’ll see how successful the ad is with Jeep sales in the weeks ahead.”

‘A difficult time to advertise’

Among the other ads that were mentioned during Prince’s class was the one from Oatly, which was judged to be so bad – coming in dead last (57th) in the rankings – that it actually might’ve helped bring publicity and attention to the company, which makes oat-based dairy products.

“They got panned pretty hard,” said Prince.

But a follow-up Instagram post by the company offering a T-shirt with the copy “I totally hated that Oatly commercial” led to a sellout in less than five minutes, proving Prince’s point from a previous class that social media is playing an increasingly significant role in Super Bowl advertising.

On a related note, Prince noted that the top ad on Twitter was a commercial by Mountain Dew that was ranked only 48th by USA Today.

Overall, Prince said there was a sense that this year’s Super Bowl advertisers knew they were walking on shaky ground.

“It’s a difficult time to advertise,” he said. “Companies didn’t want to offend.”

One of his students, Zach Harris ’21 of Mascoutah, Illinois, agreed.

“In past years, I laughed a lot more,” he said.

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