What Super Bowl Commercials Get Right And What You Can Learn From Them

If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that Super Bowl commercials are always weird. Some successfully so. Others, not so much. But even if you watch a Super Bowl commercial and think, “I don’t get it,” you probably remember it.

Who can forget the iconic “Whassup” Budweiser commercial that sparked an endless amount of pop culture references? And it was a Super Bowl commercial that brought us Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.”

What Super Bowl commercials dare to do that so many small brands fear is push the limits. 

Sure, the big names that vie for a 30-second commercial spot have a lot of name recognition and brand value behind them. And $5,600,000 to pay for a Super Bowl ad in the first place. But that doesn’t mean it’s still not risky for them to show off their weird side. 

In 2012, TaxAct.com wanted to highlight its free tax services. They did so by telling a kid he was “free” to pee in the pool. The commercial flopped — it wasn’t something viewers could relate to — and now it remains on almost every list of the worst Super Bowl commercials of all time.

So what can smaller brands who don’t have millions of dollars to put into developing and airing a 30-second commercial learn from the Super Bowl? 

Don’t be afraid to try something different. And we mean different

How often do you really take risks when it comes to your creative? Don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing wrong with creating assets you know will work. But how much are you learning if you keep doing what’s already “working?” 

What if something else could work even better?

We’ll break down some of the most successful commercials of the 2020 Super Bowl and show you how to use their daring attitude to improve your creative.

2020 Super Bowl Commercials to Learn From

Hyundai Sonata, “Smaht Pahk”

Famous Bostonians Rachel Dratch, John Krasinski, Chris Evans, and David Ortiz unite to audibly marvel at the Hyundai Sonata’s new Smart Parking Assist feature with classic Boston accents on full display.


If you were in the room when someone suggested doing an entire commercial emphasizing the often looked-down-upon Boston accent, you probably would’ve laughed and said, “yeah right.” 

But Hyundai turns the distinct accent on its head to drive the phrase, “smaht pahk” into your head. And in doing so, the company turns the new Smart Parking Assist feature of the Sonata into something that’s hard to forget. 

The accent, the city of Boston, and the celebrities have nothing to do with Hyundai or the Sonata. But by leaning into the humor of the Boston accent, they’ve delighted their audience, featured the benefits of the Smart Parking Assist, and increased the brand and feature recall in their audience’s minds. 

Takeaway: Humor, when done right, can be a powerful thing. There was a lot of potential for this ad to anger people from Boston for poking fun at their accent. But because Hyundai did it with a lighthearted approach, it was wildly successful. 

Don’t be afraid to let your brand’s personality and sense of humor show. Not everyone has to get it. But the ones who do will be that much more impressed and connected with your brand. 

Google, “Loretta”

In arguably the most touching commercial of Super Bowl LIV, an elderly man uses Google’s devices to help himself remember all the moments he and his late wife Loretta shared.



While advertisers might shy away from such a somber ad, Google’s “Loretta” commercial illustrates the many emotional benefits of their products.

The ad positions Google as an important part of modern life, and highlights memorable benefits that all generations can relate to.  

What’s more, Google used its Super Bowl commercial to demonstrate the kind of brand it wants to be. By reframing Google’s massive data collection that has raised privacy concerns, the brand instead shows how data collection can be a net positive in its users lives. 

Takeaway: Establish an emotional connection. 

Here’s a little therapy session for you: it’s okay to be vulnerable. Most people are. And most people will connect with it. 

Not everything has to be all-sales, all-the-time. In the crowded ad space, anyone can show an ad highlighting a sale. But not everyone can make you stop and feel something while doing so. 

It’s fine to mention sale details in your Facebook or Instagram ads, but dare to push your brand further. You don’t just want people to buy from you — you want them to feel good about doing so.

Tuning into the emotions that motivate your ideal customers will help inform your branding, your products, and the benefits you communicate with new audiences.

McDonald’s, “Famous Orders”

Have you ever wondered what your favorite celebrities order from McDonald’s? Now you don’t have to. After scrolling through tray after tray of famous and regular customer orders alike, McDonald’s simply asks, “May we take your order?”


Who doesn’t love imagining Kanye and Kim Kardashian West in their luxury cars rolling through the McDonald’s drive-thru?.

But in addition to using humor as an advertising tool, this McDonald’s commercial is welcoming: it invites the consumer in.

The commercial feels like it could be personalized to the viewer without actually being personalized. By showing “regular people’s” orders, the commercial immediately calls on the viewer to envision their own McDonald’s order.

It emphasizes how well McDonald’s understands the way customers interact with their company. McDonald’s demonstrates that they understand most people have a go-to order, no matter who they are.

By delving into their customer data and recognizing the patterns people make in purchasing certain menu items, McDonald’s is able to connect with their audience on a whole new level. 

Takeaway: Enable customers to imagine their own experience with your brand. We love personalization as marketers. 

But personalization goes beyond just using someone’s name in an email subject line. It’s about inviting people to envision the experience they’ll have with your brand. By personalizing content, you’ll create loyal customers who feel understood by your brand.

Pringles, “Rick and Morty”

We open on what seems like an episode of Rick and Morty, but main characters Rick, Morty, and Summer slowly realize they’ve been transported into a Pringles commercial.


With a viewing audience that is 60% male and averages 22.9 years in age, Adult Swim produces series that are sometimes raunchy and always irreverent. Where fourth wall breaks are common and wacky storylines rule, Rick and Morty is popular with a specific group of snackers. 

While we might think of Pringles as a universal snack, Pringles targeted an audience they knew they could expect a great return from. After all, it’s not hard to imagine 20-year-old college guys buying multiple cans of Pringles to watch their favorite shows. 

For fans of the show, the commercial was a message tailored just for them. Everything about the ad, from the fourth wall break to the irony of Pringles making fun of Pringles ads, spoke to the Rick and Morty audience in a language only they understood. 

Takeaway: Know your audience. And the smaller segments within that audience. And don’t be afraid to target them. 

The benefits targeting can offer advertisers aren’t new. But for some reason, marketers and brands seem hesitant to really target their content. 

Maybe you think an audience is too small, or you’ll alienate the larger portion of your audience with an ad that’s too unique, but knowing exactly what your customers like and then providing them with that content will always produce great results. 

Putting This to Work in Your Own Ads 

When it comes to Super Bowl commercials, brands invest a mountain of resources into producing what they hope will be a memorable ad. But you don’t have to have the same “go big or go home” attitude to employ the takeaways above into your own advertising.

You can start by taking small, calculated risks and testing new creative or copy among a portion of your audience. Look at the cues from past ads that you’ve run. Is there a small inkling that your audience has a unique sense of humor? Run with it. 

No one said anything about 30-second videos being the only key to success. You can take your viewer on an emotional journey with a compelling narrative, or personalize content by creating custom audiences and targeting based on their details.

It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to put together and test creative that’s a little bit new and different. Advertisers can get statistically significant results from a creative test after one hundred or so conversions. 

And most brands can do this using as little as 5-20% of their ad budget for that particular platform. 

It’s important to test on a smaller level and make sure your results are significant before scaling up budget and audience. 

Final Thoughts on the 2020 Super Bowl Commercials

The greater risks you take as a marketer, the greater the potential return. In the crowded ad space, standing out and connecting with your audience is paramount. Nothing emphasizes this more than Super Bowl commercials.

Ad Age calculated the top ads of Super Bowl LIV by digital share of voice. Google’s “Loretta” commercial managed to earn 4.04% digital share of voice, with 2,749,293 earned online views and 82,861,768 social impressions. Most of those people were probably not looking to use Google’s services, but they were still talking about Google.

What this year’s Super Bowl commercials demonstrate is that understanding your audience and reaching them with content they’ll respond to — whether it be weird, wacky, emotional, or funny — can produce immensely powerful results.

So be inspired and take risks when it comes to your messaging and creative. Step outside the bounds of what you think will please everyone in your audience. Dare to find the small segments of your audience that you can engage with on a deeper level. 

People respond to and buy from companies they feel are authentic and understand them. Standing out isn’t just about being seen — it’s about connecting to your audience in a way your competitors aren’t.

How We Leverage the Power of Emotions to Create Effective Social Ads

At Barrel, we approach every paid social ad campaign with fresh ideas and a new perspective. It’s always exciting to start a campaign and see what intriguing creative concepts our team comes up with. Our success, in part, can be attributed to a framework we call The Barrel Emotion Index, which allows us to structure unique campaigns proven to resonate with audiences.

The Barrel Emotion Index allows us to prepare briefs and conceptualize campaigns with copy and creative that’s proven to work. It’s the secret sauce that fuels every campaign we work on — the reason we can make unique, engaging ads for our clients. It allows us to analyze trends by industry, brand, touchpoint, and a customer’s position in a purchase funnel, and then identify how to use our creative to generate the most desired consumer behaviors.

One source of inspiration for this framework was a Ted Talk given by BuzzFeed Publisher Dao Nguyen, in which Nguyen dissects what makes content go viral. In the video, Nguyen explains how BuzzFeed uses what she calls a “Cultural Cartography” to create content that will provoke an emotional reaction in the audience. In essence, the audience is “hiring” a piece of content to do a job for them, or to make them feel a certain way.

Take, for example, the publication’s infamous watermelon video on Facebook Live, in which two employees strapped rubber bands around a watermelon until it exploded. That video was intentionally designed, or “hired,” to provoke a specific response in the audience: tension and suspense. More than 800,000 people tuned in to watch simultaneously — proof that the video did its job well.

This got us thinking about the nature of digital content — aren’t our social feeds just another channel where we consume different pieces of content? And shouldn’t those pieces of content provoke different emotional reactions, just like any other?

The Barrel Emotion Index


The Emotion Index consists of seven emotion categories, like Humor, Curiosity, and Self-Improvement. Each category is divided even further into specific reactions like “I want to look like that,” “Sounds like an amazing deal,” and “Tell me more.” We tested our framework against dozens of paid social ads, breaking each ad down by layers of emotions. The most effective ads contained several emotions: a primary emotion, secondary, third, and fourth, frequently ending with an emotion like “I need this.”

Ineffective ads, on the other hand, often don’t provoke any emotion at all, or they stop after the primary emotion, making them easier for the viewer to ignore altogether.

Examples of effective ads

We’ve analyzed numerous ads to validate the Emotion Index, and throughout our studies, we’ve saved ones that we thought were effective. Here are a few:

“This looks new/on trend” / “I want to look like that”: Cuyana uses a lifestyle creative to invoke an aspirational emotion in users who hope to look like the model in the creative and the lifestyle it embodies

“Tell me more”: Away captures the attention of viewers by invoking a feeling of intrigue in viewers through posing a question that entices viewers to click to find out more.

“I can actually do this”: Quip uses dreamy, simple creative and copy that emphasizes the ease and importance of using their products.

Above is an ad created by Barrel, where you can see the Emotion Index in action. The Facebook video ad for Hurom seamlessly incorporates elements of Education, Self-Improvement, and Curiosity. This ad alone led to hundreds of email sign-ups that converted into Hurom customers.


Despite constantly evolving and emerging digital platforms, the Emotion Index allows us to have a detailed, data-backed approach when it comes to copy and creative, and maintain an understanding of what motivates customers to do something. The data we’ve pulled from our collection of paid social ads allows us to view the digital advertising landscape holistically and return to concrete examples of what specific emotions look like when conveyed through ads.

A recent report from the Harvard Business Review suggests that emotional responses to an ad “provide a better gauge of customers’ future value to a firm than any other metric, including brand awareness and customer satisfaction, and can be an important new source of growth and profitability.” Using the Emotion Index allows us to create content that resonates with consumers and encourages higher engagement.

We know there are a lot of ads out there. The Emotion Index is about cutting through the clutter, and getting to the heart of our audience. We believe that the best ads are the ones that make people feel something. If our ads can make a potential new customer feel something, and take a step closer to conversion, then we’ve discovered something really compelling.

Because the Emotion Index is rooted in the very emotions that inspire human connection, using it as a key element of our creative process allows us to come up with concepts that resonate with audiences in a way that other ads just don’t.

When to Use a Theme from the Shopify Theme Store

We’ve created e-commerce stores of all sizes for brands big and small. In many cases, we recommend Shopify for its flexibility and user-friendly interface. Founded in 2004, Shopify is an e-commerce solution that makes it easy to create and manage an online store. Much like WordPress or squarespace, Shopify themes can be built completely custom or purchased from Shopify’s online theme store. What’s the difference?

A custom theme means that the store is built from scratch and requires coding, essentially you will have full control over how the site will look, feel, and function. This includes design decisions like layout, typography, color, and animations in addition to backend considerations such as how products and product content is managed and organized. When it comes to a pre-made theme, this means that many of these factors have already been determined. There is a level of customization that is available within the theme but any other functional changes not available within the theme by nature will be layered on top of the theme’s existing code.

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Tracking Ecommerce Performance with Key Metrics

An ecommerce website can throw off a dizzying array of data, and it’s easy to get caught up with tracking too much. We advise our clients to focus on a few basic metrics to assess ecommerce performance before diving into analyses of channels and user behavior.

The key metrics are:

  • Website Traffic (Sessions, Users, and Pageviews)
  • Revenue (Sales)
  • Transactions (Number of Orders)
  • Ecommerce Conversion Rate (Transactions over Sessions)
  • AOV / Average Order Value (Revenue over Transactions)
  • CLTV / Customer Lifetime Value
  • CAC / Customer Acquisition Cost

Note: I wrote this post with the assumption that the primary ecommerce channel for the business is its own ecommerce website (e.g. sites on Shopify, Magento, or some other ecommerce platform). This may not be the case for many ecommerce businesses that sell largely on Amazon, eBay, or other marketplaces.

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Resend Your Email Campaign & Maximize Results

We’ve been recommending an email marketing tactic for our clients that’s yielded some positive results. It’s dead simple: resend your email campaign to those who haven’t opened it the first time.

The fact is that even on a stellar email campaign, where open rates may be over 40%, more than half the subscribers on your list will have either completely missed or ignored what’s in the email. There are several things that could’ve contributed to this:

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6 Reasons to Go HTTPS

At Barrel, most of our clients have websites that are already using HTTPS/SSL since we began integrating with Cloudflare in early 2016. Here are some reasons why your website should be SSL-protected in 2017 and beyond.

1. For Security Purposes and Trust

Sites without HTTPS send all of the data between the user and the website in “clear text” when sending. This means that nothing is encrypted, so a clever hacker can casually intercept data without having to decrypt the information. HTTPS enforces a security handshake between the browser and the server to verify that the certificate is valid and matches the expected signatures on the server. Many browsers like Chrome and Firefox already attempt to block the page when HTTPS is used improperly. Make it hard for data thieves.

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10 Product Page Elements to Increase Ecommerce Conversions

Much of the work we do here at Barrel involves helping ecommerce brands grow their businesses online. This often includes everything from content development to website redesigns and optimization to digital marketing.

While the websites range in complexity and the products are rarely the same, there is always overlap in the elements necessary to create an effective product page experience. The product page is more than just a place to talk about the product’s details, it is an opportunity. An opportunity to tell the brand story, an opportunity to paint a picture about the lifestyle one can attain by purchasing that product, an opportunity to showcase the features that truly make this product unique.

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How Solid is Your Organization’s Story? A Simple Template for Aligning on Who You Are

Over the years, I’ve noticed that clients who invest the time and effort in proactively defining and aligning their organization’s story are often the ones that make better decisions and drive better results. I want to share what I mean by “story” and also provide a simple template that organizations can use as a checklist to identify and fill gaps in their stories.

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We Are in the Storytelling Business

I studied film and history college and my lifelong dream is to write a novel, no matter how crappy it turns out. I’ve always been fascinated by stories. Done right, stories can transport you to new places and incite various feelings within you. You can end up caring deeply about something or someone you knew very little about just minutes ago. An effective story can make you switch long-held beliefs or turn you into a staunch advocate or the meanest hater.

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