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5 things the insurance industry can learn from Super Bowl 50 TV ads

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Is all publicity good publicity, really? Because here we are, a year later, still talking about Nationwide’s faux pas with the “Dead kid” TV ad, which aired during Super Bowl LXIX (49). Every single advertising analyst on TV and in the news mentioned something about it, usually followed with, “Let’s look at this year’s Super Bowl ad flops.”

Why bring up a terrible Super Bowl ad from last year? Was “Dead kid” really so traumatic that it has set the bar in the Worst Super Bowl Ads Hall of Fame*? (*This phrase has been trademarked henceforth by

But the real question we should be asking is: Were the ads from Super Bowl 50 really so terrible that they verge on almost not memorable? For many ads, yes, but there were still some spots that generated buzz online, for better or for worse.

People watched on their TVs and online, with CBS reporting that their live stream of Super Bowl 50 broke all prior streaming records for the championship viewing: 3.96 million unique viewers watched the game via laptops, desktops, tablets, connected TV devices and mobile phones, according to TechCruch. However, the big game failed to attract as many viewers on their good ol’ television sets as last year: only 111.9 million TV viewers saw the Broncos defeat the Panthers, a decline from last year’s record of 114.4 million people, a report on CNN Money says.

Last week, we wrote about nine TV ads from different brands to look out for, both in the hopes that the commercials that aired would have some kind of new twist, and to see how people reacted to them.

And while we ended that article with a big “hopefully, we will see more financial and insurance commercials,” our hopes have been utterly crushed. Only Progressive aired an ad on Sunday night, and theirs ran just after the Super Bowl, which many might say doesn’t really count. 

That leaves us with all the other brands, mostly food and beverage, and a few oddballs that stuck out like huge, sore, annoying thumbs. Let’s take a look at some of these ads and see what, if anything, we can learn from their mistakes or successes. We have also included some Tweets about the ads.

(Ed. Note: This article is in no way, shape or form an “official” best or worst list. It only states our most humble opinions and a few things that we can learn from advertisers willing to spend at least $5 million on a 30-second TV spot. If you agree or disagree, feel free to write to us in the comments section below.)

5. Not everyone enjoys birth

Oh, Doritos, look what you’ve done now. For 10 years, Doritos has held a contest for their fans to submit commercials. Unusually quirky and outlandish, most of these ads are weird or funny-yet-offensive. This year, that line has been crossed, according to some people.

In the ad, a lady is having an ultrasound where you can see the baby in the screen. Suddenly, the father of the baby appears at mother’s side, eating a big bag of Doritos. As he’s about to take a bite, he notices that the baby in the ultrasound follows the hand that is holding the chip. Then, shenanigans …


Some people laughed and some people cringed in our viewing party. The bottom line is that it’s never a great idea to bring a touchy subject, such as a birth, together with food. The ad spawned critics from all fronts, including a pro-choice group, reports Fox News.

So, next time someone comes up with a crazy idea about an ad involving anything related to healthcare or medicine, sleep on it, think about it thrice, and run it by a few people before putting it out there.

Buzz on Twitter:

4. Audi tugging the heart strings

The recent passing of artist and musician David Bowie has left a big hole in the heart of many fans around the world. Audi, the car manufacturer, tapped into this reserve of what many call “the feels” with their tribute to the late singer’s 1972 song “Starman.” (A report from the Huffington Post does confirm that the marketing masterminds behind the TV ad had picked the song before Bowie’s passing.) This ad has made it onto many people’s best Super Bowl ads.

The ad also features President John F. Kennedy’s speech about sending a man to the moon and nods to NASA’s space program.


Listen to your audience. When Bowie passed away, many took to social media to make fan tributes. Audi knew that the ad had a very emotional aspect to it and that it was going to resonate widely.

Plus, the Audi R8 is a really, really cool car.

Buzz on Twitter:

3. Dogs and sheep, you can’t go wrong!

You would think that cats would make more TV advertising appearances, given that they are usually named the most popular animals on the Internet. Searching for the word “cat” on YouTube gives you 45 million results for videos; “dog” comes in second with 44.1 million results and “sheep,” is well behind with a measly 5.3 million results.

These stats didn’t deter Honda from using a flock of sheep singing Queen’s 1976 “Somebody to love” in a meadow, with a Honda Ridgeline pickup truck.

Meanwhile, Heinz, the food and condiment company best known for their ketchup, opted for taking the words “hot dog” literally: A stampede of thousands of dachshunds, or “wiener dogs,” dressed as hot dogs, running towards people in Heinz ketchup and mustard bottles. The kicker: they were running in slow motion, while Harry Nilsson’s 1970 “Without you” song plays in the background. Can you say adorable?


Everyone loves animals, especially cute cuddly dogs in costume. And, let’s spend some time imagining the response in the room when the idea was first presented. Maybe it was something like this:

Presenter: (Very serious, plays the intro to “Without you.”) “Imagine a lush, green meadow … thousands of wiener dogs, the animal kind, running left …”

People in the meeting: (stifling giggles)

Presenter: “Suddenly, you see what looks like giant ketchup and mustard bottles at the end …”

People: (raucous laughter)

Might’ve seemed crazy, but it worked! Everyone was talking about the Heinz TV ad on social and at our viewing party; the media has nominated the ad as one of the best.

So, next time someone presents what might seem like a kooky idea, study what has worked for other brands before you make your decision.

Bonus: ABC reported that Honda required a production crew of 50 people, 40 sheep, two border collies, one actor and three days to shoot the TV ad in Santa Clarita Valley, California. It’s so hard being an un-sheepish sheep-lebriiiiiiity.

Buzz on Twitter:

2. The disgusting… 

Before you click on the video for the #Puppymonkeybaby ad below, think: Do you really want to do that? Because once you do, you cannot un-see it. Worse, that stupid jingle gets stuck in your head, calling forth the image in a never-ending circle of “WHY did I watch that?!” OK, you’ve been warned.

Now that you’ve seen it, what do you think? Is it good, is it weird, or is it funny? At our viewing party, people had all three reactions. Likewise, most people on social media seemed divided: some loved it, others not so much. This goes to show you that, while babies, dogs and monkeys are adorable, mixing these up might not always work. Your ad has to make sense, too.

And then there were the ads about constipation; two different companies and two different products. The ads were about people not being able “to go” because of the opioids that they are taking. 

And – this being the cherry on top – do we really want to address the fact that, according to the CDC, 44 people die every day from overdosing on prescription painkillers? Do we really need another pill to “remedy” the fact that the first pill is making the user constipated? (The other ad is below.)

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1. … And the annoying

AND THEN, there’s the super awkward Jublia commercial (below). Yes, thank you! I really need to know more about this foot fungus thing that moves and even dresses like a real person. Disgusting and awkward.

Takeaways (for both No. 2 and No. 1):

Leave the medical stuff out of the Super Bowl. In fact, let’s only focus on either the emotional or funny aspects of future ads and not talk about serious health conditions — or anything too serious, for that matter — during sports festivities.

Chances are that your audience is going to blast your ad, including such high-profile audience members as the White House, who this week criticized the pharmaceutical industry for airing these ads during the Super Bowl, saying that it “could help fuel an opioid addiction crisis,” according to an article on USA Today

Buzz on Twitter:

See also:

10 things the insurance industry cna learn from the Super Bowl XLIX ads

8 ex-NFL stars worth a fortune

10 most valuable NFL teams

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