Which Were the Best Super Bowl Ads?

Maryland Smith Experts Have the Post-Game Analysis

Feb 04, 2020

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Dogs and groundhogs, a cute jacket-wearing avocado and a baby peanut, Cheetos and Doritos, and no shortage of celebrities. Even Tom Brady still showed up.

Companies that aired ads during Super Bowl LIV shelled out over $5 million to grab an amplified audience’s attention for 30 seconds through the clever, the emotional or the just plain weird.

Which strategies scored big, and which fumbled?

Three marketing experts from the Robert H. Smith School of Business came together for a little Monday morning quarterbacking. Henry C. Boyd III, a clinical professor whose research focuses on advertising effects and persuasion; Amna Kirmani, the Ralph J. Tyser Professor of Marketing and editor of the Journal of Consumer Research; and Judy Frels, a clinical professor who teaches marketing strategy, discussed which ads soared—and which bored.

Here are five that stood out:


Jeep Gladiator | “Groundhog Day”

In a nod to the classic 1993 movie where Bill Murray relives the same day over and over, this ad (airing on Groundhog Day!) features the actor and a cute rodent pal in a similar situation, but with a twist.

Kirmani: “It certainly appealed to a target audience that had seen the first movie. So it’s an older audience, but it worked particularly well. It was such a good tie-in to the movie, and it kept repeating and showing Jeep over and over again, so I thought in that sense, it was extremely effective.”

Frels: “I thought it was so perfectly executed because every day that Bill Murray gets up, he gets more and more excited because he knows that he gets to drive the Jeep. By the end, he’s bounding out of bed.”

Hyundai Sonata | “Smaht Pahk”

Chris Evans, John Krasinski and Rachel Dratch—with some help from former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz—put on their thickest “Bah-ston” accents to show how the Hyundai Sonata’s self-parking feature is “wicked smart.” Drivers can even pahk their cah at the Habah!

Boyd: “The audience watching it says, ‘Yeah, I’m being entertained, but at the same time, that is a pretty cool feature to have on a car.’ And in Boston of all places, there are no parking spots.”

Frels: “They really address a true consumer problem. It was, ‘Here’s the problem, here’s the solution,’ a very classic advertising thing that we tend to think of as kind of boring … but they did it so brilliantly.”

Doritos | “The Cool Ranch feat. Lil Nas X and Sam Elliott”

The deep-voiced, mustachioed actor meets the smash hit “Old Town Road” singer for a Western dancing showdown to illustrate that “Doritos Cool Ranch just got cooler.” Billy Ray Cyrus even drops in for a cameo.

Boyd: “Sometimes, weird can be done right. ‘Old Town Road’ is for young people—my daughter knew right away, ‘Oh, that’s my song.’ And even my father who likes westerns thought it was wonderful. And having Sam Elliott in there because he’s been in so many westerns, that was fun.”

Frels: “But boy, pretty weak tie-in to Doritos. That was my concern about that one.”

Planters | “Baby Peanut”

In a previous ad teasing Planters’ Super Bowl spot, the beloved Mr. Peanut mascot falls off the side of a cliff to his death—drawing criticism around the death last week of NBA legend Kobe Bryant. During the big game, Planters aired a follow-up at the funeral, where a tear from Kool-Aid Man makes the character comes back to life as a baby.

Kirmani: “I think if they had killed him and that was the funeral, that would have lived up to the suspense that they had created. But it gets reborn, and it’s like, ‘Ho hum. I’ve been manipulated.’”

Google | “Loretta”

Text rolls across the screen as a man uses Google Assistant to help him remember his late wife, Loretta, asking the technology to show him photos from anniversaries and trips and to take note of her most lovable qualities.

Boyd: “’Loretta’ was a wonderful spot for, like, my father. He’s at that point, I hate to say it, that you worry about losing your soulmate. If AI can allow you to keep that connection and remember what was great and wonderful and take you back in time to say, ‘Give me this picture. Remember this time,’ that speaks volumes in terms of the future and maybe the quality of care for those individuals, sadly, who might be alone in those last stages of life.”

Kirmani: “It was a clear tear-jerker. My daughter, who is 18, was sitting next to me and said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be sad right now. Don’t show me this.’ But I think it appealed, as Hank said, more to the older people, because older people may not be that much into the internet and so forth, and this gives you a reason, ‘Hey there’s something valuable in here that I hadn’t thought of.’”

–By Annie Dankelson. Republished with permission from Maryland Today.



About the Expert(s)

Judy Frels is a Clinical Professor of Marketing and teaches Marketing Strategy and leads Action Learning Projects at the EMBA and MBA levels at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. At Smith, she is the Assistant Dean of Online Programs. Judy rejoined Smith after spending four years as Associate Professor of Marketing at Audencia Nantes School of Management in Nantes, France where she was also the Head of the Marketing Research Axis. Prior to moving to France in 2010, Judy held faculty and staff positions for 11 years at Smith where she was a winner of the Krowe Award for Teaching Excellence and frequent recipient of the Top 15% Award.


Amna Kirmani is the Ralph J. Tyser Professor of Marketing at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. Her research interests include ​morality, persuasion knowledge, ​online communication, ​and branding. Her work has been published in several journals, including the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Marketing, and Journal of Consumer Psychology. Her papers have won the Paul Green Award in the Journal of Marketing Research, the Maynard Award in the Journal of Marketing, and the Best Paper Award in the Journal of Advertising. She is ​Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Consumer Psychology​ and forthcoming Co-Editor of the Journal of Consumer Research.

Henry C. Boyd is a Clinical Professor in the Marketing Department at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. He is also a managing director and principal at Ombudsman LLC, a diversified consultancy. He is licensed to practice law in Maryland, Wisconsin, and the U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin.

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