The Patterns in Super Bowl Commercials

by | Feb 6, 2012 | Advertising Tools, Culture of Innovation, Evaluation Ideas | 0 comments

Super Bowl commercials capture our attention because they tend to be highly creative and well-produced.  At $3.5 million dollars for a thirty second spot, Super Bowl advertisers need to create the best, most innovative commercials possible. To do that, they use patterns.  Professor Jacob Goldenberg and his colleagues discovered that 89% of 200 award winning ads fall into a few simple, well-defined design structures.  Their book, “Cracking the Ad Code,” defines eight of these structures and provides a step-by-step approach to use them.

Here are the eight tools:
1. Unification
2. Activation
3. Metaphor
4. Subtraction
5. Extreme Consequence
6. Extreme Effort
7. Absurd Alternative
8. Inversion

Let’s see how yesterday’s 2012 Super Bowl ads fit these patterns.

The Unification Tool uses components of the medium or within the environment of the advertisement to convey the message.  This Bridgestone commercial does a nice job of taking sports objects like balls and pucks and “unifying” them to the theme of rubber tires:

The Activation Tool gets the viewer to make a physical or mental interaction with the ad.  Here is an example from 1st Bank in Colorado (a regionally-viewed ad):

The Metaphor Tool fuses or manipulates a recognizable symbol to convey the message.  Kia’s Dream Car commercial uses one metaphor after another:

The Subtraction Tool removes elements that one would consider essential to the message.  It works well because the human mind tends to fill in the missing elements automatically.  Though I have seen better, here is a commercial from M&M the demonstrates this tool:

The Extreme Consequence Tool conveys the absurd result of using the product or service.  It works because it is memorable and vivid.  The commercial for Audi and the vampire party does it well:

The Extreme Effort Tool conveys the attractiveness of the product or service by the extremes one must go through to use it.  The Dorito’s commercials tend to use this pattern a lot (see “Dog Park“).  Another version is showing the extreme effort the company will go to provide the product.  Hyundai fights off man-eating cheetahs in this funny commercial:

The Absurd Alternative Tool shows an exaggerated alternative to using the product or service as way to highlight its main benefit.  Here is an example from

Finally, The Inversion Tool conveys what would happen if you didn’t have the product or service, but in an extreme way.  As with the other tools in the “Extreme” family of tools, it tries to create ads that are  vivid, memorable, and surprising.  My favorite is from Chevy.  The “inversion” is what happens to the group’s friend who drives a Ford instead of the Silverado (Ford filed a complaint):