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What Did We Learn From The Strangest Super Bowl Sunday In History?

We laughed, we crieda lot of beer and chips were consumed. 

Super Bowl LV may be done and dusted, but apart from Tom Brady winning his seventh ring after inspiring the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to victory against the Kansas City Chiefs, what else did we learn from the strangest Super Bowl Sunday in history? 

Traditionally the Super Bowl is the biggest advertising event in the US and global calendar 

But Super Bowl LV generated as many headlines for those who chose not to be at the Big Game athose who decided to be there, with the likes of Coca-Cola, Ford and Budweiser all taking a back seat thiyear. 

So, what did they miss? Well, Unruly tested the big ads from Super Bowl LV using our content testing tool, UnrulyEQ 

Here are our key takeaways: 

Brand performance was higher than any other Super Bowl in recent memory

While some of the traditional big names chose to skip this year’s Super Bowl, there was a welcome surprise for those first-time advertisers who decided to step into the big, empty football boots. 

That’s because the 2021 crop of Super Bowl ads generally fared much better than any in the last five years (at least since Unruly has been testing the ads).  

Using our content testing tool, UnrulyEQ, we ranked all of this year’s biggest ads using our EQ Score — a proprietary composite score out of 10 based on a campaign’s ability to not only engage consumers but also drive brand metrics such as brand favorability and purchase intent. 

And the average EQ score was 7.6  3 points higher than 2020’s average and higher average than any Super Bowl since 2016. 


Toyota’s “Upstream” made the biggest splash

So which ad came away with the prize? Well, according to our content testing tool UnrulyEQToyota’s Upstream was the most effective ad of Super Bowl LV.  

The ad from the autos brand, which features 13-time Paralympic gold medalist Jessica Long, was the campaign most likely to have the biggest impact on brand and business metrics.  

Four ads finished with an EQ score of 8.1, but Toyota’s minute-long commercial took the Super Bowl ad crown after generating more emotional engagement than any other Super Bowl LV ad. 

Click here to see the full chart. 


Best-performing ads  

Funny celebrities in ads are as much a part of the Super Bowl experience as Hail Mary passes, last-minute touchdowns and the Half-Time Show.  

And Super Bowl LV seemed to have more celebs trying to make us laugh than usual. 

But, interestingly, in a year full of humor and celebrities galore, some of the best-performing ads deviated from the formula with great success.  

For example, Toyota borrowed a page from its own successful 2018 ad by focusing on the bond between mother and child, overlaid on the backdrop of a striving Paralympian’s journey to success.  

Similarly, Bass Pro Shops leaves the celebrities out of the mix and focuses on a narrative around enjoying nature and the outdoors, even in a year when we face great challenges and interruptions to our lifestyle. 


Emotions were 53% more intense than the previous Super Bowl

With what has been happening in the States and the world over the last 12 months, it’s not surprising that people’s emotions are little heightened right now. 

That was certainly the case with Super Bowl LV, with this year’s crop of ads on average generating 53% more emotional engagement than last year. 

Toyota can claim the highest emotional response overall, with 63% of all panelists expressing some level of high-intensity emotional takeaway. 

Not far behind Toyota, scoring 60% in the overall emotional category, was Jeep, Bass Pro Shops and the NFL.  

Interestingly, none of these ads relied on humor as a crutch to make them relatable and non-controversial. Insteadall these ads leaned heavily into unity and inspiration in their messaging 


Surprise and inspiration were the most dominant emotions overall

Looking at the emotional profile of all the ads tested, the emotions that come in most consistently across all tested videos were surprise and inspiration.  

Toyota and the NFL took top honors in the inspiration category, with 27% and 26% of respondents respectfullfinding those two ads to be intensely inspirational.  

The most surprising ad overall goes to Bud Light Seltzer, with its ad about raining lemons, which left 28% of our panel expressing surprise at thbrand’s creative approach.

Not far behind was Doritos’ Flat Matthew, which surprised 26% of viewers.

Which brands were most likely to leave viewers wanting more?

Toyota and Doritos managed to drive the highest levels of desire to find out more from consumers, with 70% of respondents registering interest for each of these ads.  

Doritos accomplished this feat by introducing an interesting new line extension with its new, more voluminous take on its traditional chip design. 

Meanwhile, Toyota used the power of an emotional narrative and general unknown to draw interest in its ad’s protagonist and her life story.   


Auto brands steer the highest brand favorability scores

The biggest winners in the brand favorability department this year all came from the auto or auto adjacent sectors 

Jeep and WeatherTech both left 71% of viewers with a more favorable view of their brands, with Cadillac’s Scissor Hand Free right behind them at 70%.


These ads took a variety of different maneuvers to achieve such high scores. Jeep leveraged the considerable equity that Bruce Springsteen brings to the table as their brand spokesperson, while Cadillac utilized nostalgia to tap into older consumers shared emotions and experiences from their childhoods 

WeatherTech leaned heavily into Americana and patriotism to sell its brand to consumers.   


M&Ms’ ad presents the sweetest deal to viewers

Purchase intent scores are often heavily influenced by how easily accessible and affordable a product is. 

It means lowercost CPG products have a bit of an advantage, certainly compared to sectors such as autos – and that was certainly the case with Super Bowl LV.  

The highest level of purchase intent was generated by M&Ms’s “Come Together” at 80% for its humorous take on forgiveness and making amends for past indiscretions.  

Not far behind were Doritos and Hellmann’s Mayonnaise at 75% and 74%, respectively.   

To watch all the big Super Bowl ads of 2021, as well as discovering how they all performed, head over to our Super Bowl LV Ad Hub.