Who Won the #ImmersionBowl 2019?

Would you enjoy chunky milk?

The Problem

Why do people who don’t like sports watch the Super Bowl? The ads of course.  Thirty percent of people watch the Super Bowl just for the commercials.  Super Bowl commercials are a cultural phenomenon.  Ad agencies wait all year to release their best and most expensive commercials during the Super Bowl.  In 2019, advertisers paid $5.3 million to air a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl – this is over $175,000 per second, so every second should immerse viewers.

How do companies know if their commercial will be successful?  Traditionally they wait weeks or months after the Super Bowl to see if sales increased.  Sure, the next day they could find out how people on USA Today’s Ad Meter rated how much they “liked” the commercials.  But liking does not lead to action­; and there’s the rub.

Immersion Neuroscience has shown in numerous studies that when people are immersed in an experience, they are moved to take action.  Last year’s most immersive commercial, Coca Cola’s Diet Coke Groove came in dead last on Ad Meter’s rankings. But, what about sales?  For the first time since 2010, Coca Cola’s sales increased in the first quarter of 2018.  Coincidence?  We think not.  Immersion predicts sales with 85% or greater accuracy. Immersion, not “liking,” is what motivates people to act.


The Study

We hosted 38 people for a live Superbowl party at a bar in Southern California. Participants, nearly equally split between men and women of various ages, wore our sensors throughout the game, and they were alerted every time a commercial was about to start.  Our software captured data from the sensors, measuring immersion in real time. We calculated average immersion for each of the 83 commercials that played during the game. 


The most immersive commercials are shown in the graphic below.  Every year we have run this study, the results are surprising.  The #ImmersionBowl winner was a commercial for Mint Mobile called Chunky Style Milk.  This video is not traditionally likable, but the neurologic data show that it generated powerful immersion in viewers by portraying a family happily drinking chunky milk with a voice-over telling us this is “just wrong.”  You can watch the commercial and see its second-by-second immersion here

There is a wild story to this commercial and viewers need to see how it plays out, keeping immersion high.  Not only did Mint Mobile deliver a high-immersion message, the ad was humorous and they did it all in 30 seconds.  We also found that women had 7% greater immersion in this commercial than did men. This fits with the scientific literature that shows women experience disgust, which was used in the ad, more than men.

Nearly all of the Super Bowl commercials we tested were quite good.  The top 10 most immersive commercials were 16.3% above the immersion benchmark for advertising.  That is almost a full standard deviation better than the typical commercial.  Even the 10 lowest immersion commercials shown during the 2019 Super Bowl were, on average, 4.6% above benchmark.  Advertisers and their agencies pulled out all the stops to create exceptional content. Immersion was not affected by the quarter the commercial aired, or if it aired at half-time, nor did famous celebrities produce higher immersion commercials.  Our analysis found that averaging across all the commercials, men were more immersed than were women, and being a football fan not did not affect immersion.

Shorter is Better

USA Today’s Ad Meter “liking” rating put the NFL commercial 100 Year Game as the top ad followed by Amazon Alexa’s Not Everything Makes the Cut.  The second-by-second immersion for the NFL’s two-minute commercial shows why it was ranked 38th for immersion: the ad content (loose football picked up by famous player) recurs over and over. The ad is predictable, so immersion is not sustained.  Amazon’s 90-second commercial did better, ranking 12th for immersion. How could both ads improve? Our analysis showed that both commercials were too long. They would have generated higher immersion if just the first 30 seconds of both commercials were shown, as visualized below.  If this were the case, the NFL commercial would have been the 9th most immersive and Amazon’s would have been the 3rd most immersive.  Had these advertisers run 30 second commercials, they would have more powerfully impacted viewers’ brains, they would have saved $16M and $11M in reduced air-time costs, and they would have saved millions in production costs.  Bottom line: a longer commercial does not produce more impact on the brain – tight, hard-hitting storytelling is what drives immersion and sales up.

Make Them Laugh

Two recurring ad types were present in the Super Bowl: funny and emotional.  Our analysis shows that humorous videos were 3.6% more immersive than emotional commercials.  Averaging across all the emotional and humorous commercials we found that emotional commercials tended to start well, but their immersion declined rapidly as people disengaged after being flooded with emotion.  Humorous ads, on the other hand, typically had immersion that grew as the ad played. The scores below show that emotional ads even underperformed the overall average immersion (4.24) of the Superbowl ads tested.

Immersion Predicts Impact

We tested how immersion predicted outcomes by using YouTube metrics as proxies for impact.  The analysis showed that ad immersion was positively correlated with YouTube views, likes, and comments.  Our previous studies using sales bump data showed that sales increased in proportion with immersion.  What about self-report?  Ad Meter “liking” had a negative correlation with YouTube views.  Why? Immersion measures if a commercial captures you neurologically and makes you remember and want to share the experience.  Self-reported liking is simply too weak a measure to capture what happens in the brain.

Key Take-Aways:

  1. The Super Bowl is the big time so advertisers should test for immersion throughout the creative process to ensure commercials impact sales.
  2. Measuring the immersion of commercials in real-time allows advertisers to create immediate follow-ups in social media and target neurologic influencers identified on the Immersion Neuroscience platform.
  3. For the fifth year running, immersion predicts Super Bowl commercial outcomes and beats predictions from self-reported AdMeter “liking.” Immersion optimizes the impact of content to drive up return on investment.

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