Which Emotion was the MVP of Super Bowl Ad Effectiveness?

By Aaron Reid
February 8, 2019

 It happens year after year. Inevitably, I’m watching the Super Bowl, engrossed in the ads, and someone I’m with says “Wow, that was emotional!” I usually turn and ask some version of: “What made it emotional for you?”.  The answers typically refer to how “touching”, or “nostalgic” or “sentimental” the ad was. This always reminds me of how deeply we misunderstand emotion and its influence on behavior. Yes, ads that tap nostalgia or feel sentimental are evoking emotion. However, those types of ads aren’t the only, or even the most common, kinds of emotional ads.

Emotion in advertising determines the success of ads in two major ways:

  1. making the ad more engaging, thereby enhancing breakthrough and sustained attention, and
  2. creating greater influence, thereby increasing desire for the brand.

Subtext behavioral science based ad testing has revealed that sentimental emotions are not necessarily the best emotions for creating engagement and lifting influence. Consider ads that make you laugh (amusement) – is that emotion? Consider ads that make you feel excited – is that emotion? Consider ads that make you feel disgusted – is that emotion?
What about wonder, and pride and gratitude? All emotions.  And all used effectively, and sometimes ineffectively, in advertising.

So given that “emotional” means more than sentimental, what were the most emotional ads of the 2019 Super Bowl?
Well, Subtext has something say about both the degree and kind of emotion evoked by the ads. Here are a few examples of above average and below average emotionally engaging ads according to the Subtext method for measuring ad effectiveness.

Mint Mobile
See if you can detect how this ad uses both disgust and amusement (humor) to capture and maintain your emotional engagement in the ad.

This spot is actually an extension of their campaign that has consistently used the combination of disgust and amusement in attempt to make the brand memorable in the minds of consumers.
Finger Dipping (that’s not right):

Carpet showers (that’s not right):

However, emotional engagement is only half of the equation for ad effectiveness. What if the emotional associations with the Mint Mobile brand, following exposure to the ad, end up being more heavily weighted toward disgust and not the positive brand feelings induced by the amusement? To understand this brand influence, we need to understand more than just emotional engagement, we also need to understand the emotional impact on brand perceptions.
Now, what about below average emotion-inducing ads?  Here’s an example from Burger King:

Did you feel any emotion while watching that ad? Perhaps, a little anger or disgust toward the brand by the end of the spot? But generally, this ad lacks much emotional engagement, and it scores low on the Subtext norms for advertising engagement.
Now back to those “emotional” ads. Consider these three ads, which typically would be referred to as “emotional”. Would each of these be considered equally effective in your view? Why or why not?

These three ads scored very differently relative to effectiveness.  The Subtext Ad Impact results of implicit brand influence are available to all of our ad testing client partners. Reach out to us for the full report and insight on how to make your ads more emotionally engaging and influential.

  • Share Insight
Aaron Reid


Founder & CEO, Sentient Decision Science, Inc.



For more information about Sentient Decision Science and our groundbreaking research please contact us.