Barry McNamara  |   Published February 16, 2022

Super Bowl, Super Learning

Television ads from big game provide learning opportunity for Monmouth marketing students.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Determining the top TV ads that run during a given Super Bowl is much like determining the winner of another football-related event, the annual NFL draft. In the immediate aftermath, experts can opine all they want about which team selected the best players, but the real proof will come a few years later, when the return on each team’s investment is much clearer.

WINNER, WINNER: Coming in at the top of the USA Today ranking of Super Bowl ads was Rocket Mortga... WINNER, WINNER: Coming in at the top of the USA Today ranking of Super Bowl ads was Rocket Mortgage's "Barbie Dream House" commercial starring Anna Kendrick. It was the second straight year that Rocket Mortgage had the top-ranked ad from the big game.Monmouth College students in Tom Prince’s marketing class learned a similar lesson, as well as many others, as they reviewed the commercials that aired during Super Bowl LVI on Sunday. Prince told the class that several outlets, including Rolling Stone magazine, rate the ads, and he chose to reference the rankings by USA Today.

Coming in dead last in 66th place was the ad for Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange platform. The ad featured a QR code that changed colors as it floated across a dark screen for an uncomfortably long amount of time, until a graphic for Coinbase appeared at the end.

“I was watching the ad with a large group,” said one student. “About half of them were just cheering for the QR code to land directly in a corner. But the other half had their phones out and were scanning the code.”

Those scanners, part of the estimated 101.1 million people to tune in to Super Bowl LVI, were not alone.

“That (Coinbase) ad had 20 million hits in the first minute after it aired. It crashed the website. The person who came up with the ad is probably saying ‘I deserve a raise.’” Tom Prince


“That ad had 20 million hits in the first minute after it aired,” said Prince. “It crashed the website. The person who came up with the ad is probably saying ‘I deserve a raise.’”

Even though many panned the ad, it did receive some high marks, too, from other ranking sources.

“I’ve never seen an ad that was divided,” said Prince.

On Super Sunday, Coinbase may have lost big in the style points department, but company officials might be laughing all the way to the bank in the days ahead. Time will tell.


Reaching the target audience

Prince used Coinbase and another company, Meta, to make a point about intended audiences.

TOM PRINCE: For the past several years, the Monmouth business professor has used commercials from... TOM PRINCE: For the past several years, the Monmouth business professor has used commercials from the Super Bowl to provide teachable moments to his advertising and marketing students.“The older I get, the more I realize they’re not talking to me anymore,” said Prince, who has a head of white hair. “People who look like Q-tips are not their target audience.”

The age difference of viewers is certainly a factor when determining content. Cutwater Spirits played off an Apple advertising campaign from before the students were even born with its “Here’s to the Lazy Ones” spot.

Toyota made a multi-generational appeal, using a face those same students would recognize – Nick Jonas – in its “Keeping Up with the Joneses” ad. But the background music by Tom Jones topped the charts in 1965, before their parents were born.

“It was extremely well done in terms of capturing the audience’s attention,” said Prince.

The USA Today critics agreed, ranking the add ninth, four slots behind Toyota’s other ad, which also featured a discussion point for the class.

Titled “Brothers,” the spot – featuring real-life brothers and Paralympic cross-country skiers Brian and Robin McKeever – aired during the game’s first commercial break. It was not only the first ad that viewers saw, but also tugged on the heartstrings more than any other.

“It probably had the strongest emotional appeal of the entire game,” said Prince. “It definitely took a different tone than much of what the rest of the advertising had.”


We could all use a laugh

The common tone was humor, and Prince and his students discussed why that was.

“It’s just been super deep the last two years with COVID,” said one student. “They wanted a more light-hearted approach this year.”

“We’re all tired of these things,” said Prince, tugging at his facemask. “We want a little levity in our lives.”

Two advertisers, in particular, hit humor home runs, nearly tying for first-place honors in the USA Today rankings. For the second year in a row, Rocket Mortgage had the top ad, with its “Barbie Dream House” spot starring Anna Kendrick, while celebrity couple Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost helped Amazon Alexa finish No. 2 (“Setting reminder to fake your own death on March 8”).


“We’ve talked about Michael Porter’s quote about competitive advantage – that companies can either lower the cost or differentiate. That’s it. What Google did in its ad, without even mentioning its competitors, was show how its phone cameras are better. It put them ahead of their competitors in consumers’ minds. Tom Prince 


Prince also used Google’s ad promoting its Pixel 6 camera to reiterate a point to the class.

“We’ve talked about Michael Porter’s quote about competitive advantage – that companies can either lower the cost or differentiate. That’s it,” said Prince. “What Google did in its ad, without even mentioning its competitors, was show how its phone cameras are better. It put them ahead of their competitors in consumers’ minds. It was a very subtle but very important claim.”

The commercial also featured a song by recording artist Lizzo, helping to appeal to yet another demographic.

While Prince used Google as an example of a winning strategy, he said that companies finishing lower in the rankings made a common – and costly – mistake, considering the price tag for this year’s Super Bowl commercials was $7 million for 30 seconds.

“Some of the advertising didn’t keep in mind what the marketing objective was,” he said. “They can get too creative and lose track of what the mission really is.”

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