NEW YORK, NY – Some of the world’s largest brands spent heavily on Super Bowl Sunday to reach consumers. But according to marketing experts and over 100 MBA students at Columbia Business School, only some of the ads broke through. The biggest winners of the night:

Columbia Business School MBA students – led by Professors Moran CerfKinshuk Jerath, and Sandra Matz – ranked ads live during each commercial break of the game and produced a single report on the biggest advertising winners and losers of the Super Bowl. The top 5 commercials in their rankings include:

  1. Google Pixel: "Javier in Frame"
  2. Verizon: “Can’t B Broken” 
  3. Uber Eats: “Don’t Forget Uber Eats”
  4. Microsoft: "Copilot: Your Everyday AI Companion"
  5. Duolingo: “Do your lesson, no buts.”
  6. T-Mobile: “Auditions”

More findings from the night of ads:

  • The only non-tech brand that penetrated the top 10 list was Doritos’ Dinamita. Generally, food and snacks that make recurring appearances in the Super Bowl were concentrated in the middle of the scoring chart, with Dunkin’ Donuts topping the category. 
  • Weaker results were witnessed by movie and TV trailers. The only trailer that performed well in the rankings was Universal’s “Wicked” which scored among the top 20.

“Though the game went into overtime, an event that, ad-wise, should be a treasure trough given the heightened engagement during those tense minutes, this did not manifest in amplified ad content. Only a handful of ads were shown during the 15-minute extra time, and some were a repeat of the ones shown previously. While this is not surprising given that buying ad slots on an unlikely overtime event is expensive yet uncertain (this has happened only once in the last 58 years, in 2017), some companies might learn the lesson and plan some marketing effort - if not a TV ad, then certainly a social media one to benefit from the engagement,” said Professor Moran Cerf, Academic Director in Executive Education and Adjunct Professor of Business at Columbia Business School.

Additional Takeaways Below:

  • This Was the Year of “Spokes-Brands” – Whereas, normally, brands hire celebrity endorsers to make appearances in a commercial as the product spokespeople, this year seemed to have reversed the roles. Brands were the backdrop to a celebrity who took the front stage. Most notably, this was the case with singer Beyoncé, who announced the dropping of a coming album during one of the breaks (do you remember what brand was the ad from? It was Verizon). Similarly, bodybuilder, governor, and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger took the frontline on an ad focusing on his undistinguishable accent. Other familiar actors like Mr. T, or Christopher Walken had a prominent role in an ad focusing on them (try to see if you remember what the ad was for), demonstrating the blurring of the boundary between the product and its notable advocate.

  • AI Made a Surprising Non-Appearance – Despite a lot of traction in mainstream media and expectations for it to be central in the Super Bowl, the appearance of AI in the commercials was minimal. Microsoft’s Co-Pilot and Google Pixel’s visual aid abilities were the most notable appearance. AI may have been instrumental in much of the ad generation (briefs, visuals, and maybe even creative creation) but was not otherwise salient. This is likely to change gradually in future ad content given its prominent place in research and development these days.

  • Politics Were Surprisingly Absent in Ads Despite 2024 Being an Election Year – Many speculated that the Super Bowl wouldn’t shy away from showing brands (and players) taking stands on issues. This was surprisingly mostly absent. Most brands took a safe route and attempted to steer away from what could be a controversial choice. The only political candidate that made headlines with a promotional ad on the Super Bowl was independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. whose ad built on the legacy of his uncle JFK. Similarly, on the geopolitics front, question about Chinese-backed, Temu, who purchased 3 slots during the game, steered questions on whether this is an attempt to take on the U.S. large shopping market that is currently dominated by the likes of Amazon and Walmart. Overall, there will likely be less partisan chatter over the media in the coming days on Super Bowl ad choices.

  • Advertisers Took An Expected “Taylor Swift Effect” Into Account – Taylor Swift brings more younger women to watch the Super Bowl. However, most major brands did not tailor their messaging in any way to that audience in a way that seems differentiated despite media forecasting sites predicting that ads would attempt to capitalize on this market. Given that Taylor Swift indeed graced the stage due to her ties to one of the players, the media buzz surrounding her appearance was inevitable. Close-cam shots of the singer appeared routinely during the game.

About the Rankings: During the game, marketing experts split more than 100 MBA students into two groups. The first viewed commercials for their memorability, favorability, alignment with the brand image, positioning, emotionality, and other attributes that might predict things like sales lift, share of market, media mentions, and overall public response. The second group focused specifically on ad engagement based on Professor Cerf’s research and assessed ad affect, likeability, and context. Both groups delivered an aggregated score with a single number evaluation of the ad, similar to classical ad reviews, with theoretical explanations of the score’s reasoning stemming from the multiple metrics used to assess the ads. An analysis team that included multiple research assistants and other professors incorporated the real-time assessments and generated the ultimate ranking. The Columbia Business School Ad Review, with hundreds of rankings during the 31 commercial breaks, is likely to yield additional results from the research team in the coming days, with more granular and surprising learnings about the nuances of mass persuasion at scale (a topic that the researchers among the team take special interest in). 

To learn more about cutting-edge research being conducted, please visit  Columbia Business School.