Only We Can Tell You What Really Happened in Super Bowl LII

Which Commercial Won Super Bowl LII?

The Problem

Philadelphia beat New England to win the 2018 Super Bowl.  That is an objective outcome. But, which advertisers won sales after paying $5 million to air a 30-second commercial? Ad agencies and market researchers run polls or have some “expert” explain who the winners were.  Not us.   We use objective neurologic analysis to identify the commercials with the biggest impact.  And most importantly, why they were so impactful. 

The Study

We measured immersion from the brains of 24 typical Super Bowl viewers two days after Super Sunday.  The Immersion Neuroscience platform collects data at scale so we tested all 24 simultaneously in a relaxed living room setting. 


This year, as we have found in every previous year, neurologic immersion was unrelated to self-reported “liking” of commercials.  The commercial that was the most immersive was Diet Coke “Groove.” The USA Today AdMeter poll of “liking” put this commercial at 65th – dead last among commercials aired during the Super Bowl.  

Across all 65 commercials, we found a strong negative association between “liking” and the immersion (correlation -0.37).  In other words, the more people said they “liked” a commercial the less peoples’ brains found it immersive. So what gives?

Immersion does not measure if a commercial is pleasing, it measures the extent to which an experience shakes up the brain so that information is remembered, acted on, and shared.  That is what drives market impact, not liking. 

Let’s dissect what the most immersive commercial, Diet Coke “Groove,”  did to shake up people’s brains.  The commercial has an unusual-looking woman doing an odd dance with a Diet Coke Twisted Mango in her hand. Things that are weird or unusual keep us watching, and if it is paired with a story, as “Groove” is, we start to care about the product. 


Check out the figure above showing immersion in “Groove” second-by-second.  There are immersion peaks at second 6 and second 22.  Both these peaks push average immersion over 5; the immersion benchmark for advertising is 3.85.  Hitting a 5.0 for immersion averaged across 24 people means that immersion is reaching 98% of its maximum value. This shows the neurologic impact of this video.

The first peak occurs when the actress looks at the camera and says, “Diet Coke Twisted Mango.  Because….” and then pauses to take a drink. The pause piques (and peaks!) our interest.  What is she going to tell us about?  And, what’s with that weird yellow wall behind her that we have to look at while we wait?  We have to hold our desire to know while she sips her drink. Anticipation generates an immersion spike in the brain.  The pattern of her talking and us listening has been broken.  We are intrigued!

The commercial continues as she starts to dance and talk about how the product makes her feel.  Then, her dance gets weirder. Just before the peak at second 22, she says, “Maybe slowing it down, maybe it’s getting sexier.”  The video is shot asymmetrically with the actress staying on the one side of the frame for most of the commercial, an oddity that sustains immersion.  Importantly, the story that the actress is telling features the product and is the reason she is dancing.  There is a narrative arc we can follow: if we want to be happier and perhaps sexier, we should drink Diet Coke Twisted Mango.

What about sales?  Does immersion or “liking” predict market impact.  The 65 advertisers do not share their sales bump data, so we’ll use a proxy for market impact: YouTube views and YouTube comments.  If people are sharing and commenting, they are likely to be buying and influencing others to do so.

Immersion had a positive association with YouTube views (correlation 0.27) and YouTube comments (correlation 0.25). This shows that neurologic immersion in modest number of people predicts market outcomes.  What about the AdMeter ratings? They were negatively related to the number of YouTube views (correlation -0.33) and comments (correlation -0.38).  This means the more people said they “liked” a Super Bowl commercial, the less attention these ads got online. 

So which measure do you want to use when developing your next ad campaign?

Key Take-Aways:

  1. As we have found in previous years, there is no relationship between what people say they “like” and whether a commercial generates immersion in viewers’ brains.
  2. Measuring Immersion throughout the creative process can substantially improve its the return on advertising investment by measuring and raising immersion for each iteration of a commercial.
  3. Neurologic immersion is a better predictor of market outcomes than self-reported data.

Submit your email to download the case study