Super Bowl Ads Mostly Failed in 2014, Especially Ones for Cars

New or unfamiliar products did relatively well in 2014 Super Bowl advertising, while established products and particularly automotive brands fared poorly, according to research firm Communicus. That may help explain why this year's Super Bowl is more loaded with unfamiliar players, and why automotive brands are mostly sitting on the sidelines, according to Jeri Smith, CEO of the firm that rates effectiveness of Super Bowl and other ads.

In all, Big Game ads in 2014 performed below average when it came to brand awareness and purchase intent, according to Communicus, which bases its ratings on the affect Super Bowl ads have on people surveyed before and after the game. The firm surveys 3,000 consumers before the game about brands known to be advertising, then follows up with 1,000 members of that group after the game to gauge the ads' impact.

The median effectiveness score for 48 Super Bowl ads from 2014 measured by Communicus was 64.5. That compares to 100 as the average in the database for the company, which does similar ratings of TV ads for clients year round. Communicus didn't evaluate all the Super Bowl ads, but did get all that were known to be coming before the game.

Automotive players on average did pretty badly, with the industry accounting for six of the 10 lowest-rated ads in the last Super Bowl, according to Communicus (see chart below). To date, the auto industry only has three known brands in the 2015 Super Bowl, compared to 11 in 2014.

"Maybe their sales results were telling them this was not a great investment," Ms. Smith said. "I think for the auto companies there's been so much clutter that it makes it harder for any given brand to stand out. A lot of them focus on being entertaining, but don't get their brand name across."

Three auto brands – Chevrolet, Toyota and Kia -- did make the top 10 in the Big Game last year. "The ones that tend to do a really good job tend to have something new, like the Mercedes introduction of the CLA or the Kia 900 model," she said. But she added that Chevy's truck commercial about a man, his truck and an amorous bull did well by "generating some affinity for that brand."

Animals were not a sure thing, however. Budweiser had good brand awareness for its "Puppy Love" ad, but didn't move the needle on purchase intent like it did with the "Brotherhood" Clydesdale ad of 2013. People liked both ads, but maybe liked the puppy more than the Clydesdale, resulting in too much "borrowed interest," Ms. Smith said.

This year's lineup has almost as many web-service platforms – SquareSpace and – as auto brands. And maybe that makes sense, given that novelty works, with BeatsMusic and SquareSpace among the top four in effectiveness scores in 2014.

"For new and less-established products, it's a really good opportunity," Ms. Smith said. The top scorer of all in the last Super Bowl – Nestle's Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cup – also had a new product to pitch, which accounted for the success even if social-media reception of the creative was a bit polarized.