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Brand characters beat celebs in Super Bowl ads says System1

The Super Bowl is hoving into view (Feb 11, Las Vegas) with advertisers paying around $7m per 30-second spot, although this year there are some absentees.

Researcher System1 has been looking into what works best and finds that brand characters work better than celebs, which might save some advertisers extra money.

System1 tested consumers’ emotional reactions to Super Bowl ads of the past four years (2020-2023) and found that commercials featuring brand characters consistently outscored celebrity spots for appeal, brand recognition and commercial impact.

Ads with brand characters and branded situations (e.g., Snickers “you’re not you when you’re hungry”) – which it calls fluent devices – averaged 3.8 Stars, yet only 10% of ads used them. By contrast, 39% of ads featured celebrities, and averaged only 2.7 Stars. System1 scores ads for brand impact on a scale of 0 to 5.9 Stars. Furthermore brand characters outscored all other ads by a similar margin, registering greater immediate sales potential than celebrity, music, sports and non-celebrity ads.

As an example, example, brand characters averaged a 1.38 Spike Rating, vs. 1.24 for celebrity ads, demonstrating a significantly higher propensity to spike sales over 10 days.

Despite the big budgets and creative attention dedicated to Super Bowl commercials, System1 found their brand Fluency (i.e., strength of brand recognition) is lower than that of typical US ads. Since 2020, the average brand recognition score for Super Bowl ads has dropped from 85 to 83, while the score for general US ads is 85.

System1 says advertisers should introduce their brand characters earlier, citing M&M’s last year as an example. Early in the game, when M&M’s pretended to change up their candy mascots by replacing the hardshell chocolate characters with Maya Rudolph, a popular actress and former SNL star, their ad received a low 1.0 Star Rating. Emotional response trended negative. Later in the game, when M&M’s aired an ad with their candy characters front and center, they received a 4.8 Star Rating, the second highest of any of the 2023 Super Bowl ads.

“Almost 20% of viewers leave Super Bowl ads not being able to recall what brand the ad was for. This is causing serious wastage,” said Jon Evans, chief customer officer at System1. “Can you explain your creative idea without mentioning your brand, service or product? That’s a red flag.”

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