Super Bowl 50: Why Some Ads Work and Others Fall Flat

February 9, 2016

The best Super Bowl ads have one indisputable trait: They tell fabulous stories.

And beautiful stories are what you want, especially if you’re forking over $5 million for 30 seconds of prime-time viewer real estate.

But what makes some ads sizzle while others sink? Here’s three key qualities that work every time:

  1. Make it relatable. If you’re a football fan, you’ve probably been around someone who may have tried to drive drunk. It’s not cool. It’s incredibly dangerous. And stupid. Budweiser tapped the enviable frankness of Helen Mirren to say what we want to say: Driving drunk is not only stupid, you’re an ass if you do it.

  1. Make it emotional. It’s simple – brushing with the faucet running wastes up to 4 gallons of water. I know I’m guilty of doing that. And then we see a little girl desperately catching handfuls of water and eagerly drinking them. The man nonchalantly brushing his teeth wastes more water than many families have to use in a week. It’s a simple message, but Colgate did a beautiful job of taking something we do every day – brushing our teeth – and inspiring us to change our behavior. Which is, after all, the ultimate point of why companies spend money on creating any kind of media.

  1. Make it memorable. Stories that are memorable are stories that people share. And that’s why we tell stories. Mountain Dew’s Puppymonkeybaby did just that. Admittedly, it’s like a bad dream came to life, but it has the right amount of Super Bowl humor. This is were you bring out the weird, because that’s what the audience expects, but it’s the right kind of weird. Unlike the Xifan GutGuy that was just down right creepy…

With 111.9 million viewers, Super Bowl 50 was the third most watched of all time. If you’re in front of that size of audience, make sure you have a story worth telling.

Photo credit: Flickr user David Yu 

About Carla Johnson


Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author.

Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action. Her work with Fortune 500 brands has served as the foundation for many of her books.

In her latest project, Fast Forward Files, she contributes to a larger collection of thoughts by some of the world’s greatest minds -  Shazam co-founder Dhiraj Mukherjee, activist and entrepreneur Heather Mills and behavioral designer, technologist and mental-health champion Peter Trainor. Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking. 

Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.