Likability doesn’t equal success for Super Bowl ads

In advertising, just as in professional sports, it's not how well you play the game, but whether you win or lose, that counts....

In advertising, just as in professional sports, it’s not how well you play the game, but whether you win or lose, that counts.

That fact is underscored by a study by the Zyman Marketing Group – the firm founded by former Coca-Cola chief marketing officer Sergio Zyman – that suggests that some of this year’s least-likable Super Bowl spots were actually the most successful at increasing purchase intent on the part of consumers.

According to Zyman, many well-produced and creatively entertaining commercials have less of an impact on stimulating sales than those that simply focus on relevant and unique brand attributes. In fact, in some instances, the study says, such high concept ads can negatively affect a brand at the cash register.

The Atlanta, Ga.-based market research company surveyed 1,603 Super Bowl viewers across the U.S. in the days immediately following the big game. Its results contrast sharply with those of USA Today’s annual Ad Meter, which rates the TV spots according to how much viewers liked them.

For example, while ‘Dancing Guy,’ from cellular telephone company Cingular, ranked 43rd in the Ad Meter rating, Zyman’s survey recorded a 41% increase in consumers’ intent to purchase Cingular’s services after the Super Bowl broadcast. Similarly, Zyman’s review saw global management and consulting organization Accenture register the highest spike in purchase intent – 77% – even though it placed 41st in the USA Today poll.

Meanwhile, two of Ad Meter’s top 10 commercials – Pepsi’s ‘Bob Dole,’ where the politician parodies his pitch for Viagra, and eTrade’s superhuman ‘Security Guard’ – delivered an increase in purchase intent of only 14.9% and 29.5%, respectively, while a third – Visa’s ‘Bunnies,’ which shows how quickly bunnies can multiply in the time it takes for a credit card purchase to be authorized – registered a purchase intent decrease of 17.1%.

The study’s results, which are posted at, support Zyman’s contention that marketers are wrong to produce ads that merely grab the public’s attention. He has long said they should concentrate instead on communicating what is relevant and different about their brands.

For the record, Zyman – who was once nicknamed the ‘Aya-Cola’ and was behind the successful launch of both Coke Classic and Fruitopia – practices what he preaches. In 1980, he caused a stir when he pulled the soft drink maker’s extremely popular ‘Mean Joe Greene’ Super Bowl spot because it failed to increase sales.