Super Bowl ad “best of” lists tend to rely on one of three perspectives:

While these lists are often entertaining and the comments potentially insightful, they generally lack any objective criteria that allow you to apply the success or failures of Super Bowl ads to your own situation.

In an attempt to provide criteria, last year #BZBowl, sponsored by The Brainzooming Group, used ratings from the SUCCES (Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotional, Stories) model the Heath Brothers explained in their book on effective communication, Made to Stick.  While this raised the Super Bowl ad analysis above “I liked it ‘cause I thought it was funny,” I’m not sure that an ad that hit on multiple parts of the SUCCES criteria is any better than one that hit really well on only one criteria.

In their book, however, the Heaths cite research on advertising creativity from a group of Israeli social scientists. That research showed award winning ads nearly always make use of a rather short list of tools. The researchers’ subsequent book, Cracking the Ad Code, describes the eight tools and two complementary principles present in nearly every ad professionals judge as award winning and audiences describe as “creative.”

Briefly, the eight tools are:

  • Unification – using an element of the medium or in its vicinity to deliver the message.
  • Activation – using the viewer as a resource to reveal the message.
  • Metaphor – exploiting symbols or cognitive frameworks that already exist in the mind of the viewer to deliver the message.
  • Subtraction – excluding an element of the medium considered to be indispensible.
  • Extreme Consequence – presenting an extreme—sometimes negative—situation that happens as a result of using the product.
  • Extreme Effort – depicting the absurd lengths a consumer will go to obtain a product or the extreme lengths a company will go to in order to please a consumer.
  • Absurd Alternative – showing a possible, though highly outlandish and impractical, alternative to the product being offered.
  • Inversion – suggests how horrible the world would be without the advertised product.

The two complementary principles are Fusion and Closed World:

  • Fusion involves melding the symbol for something, its story, and the product or brand you are advertising. If your story is connection and your product is a telecommunications, the fusion is your logo becomes the world, i.e. ATT.
  • Closed World uses symbols or ideas from the actual world of the product. E.g. detergents would use clothes, stains, washing machines, not flowers, sunshine and mountaintops.

Ads employing Fusion and Closed World are judged more creative.

So for this year’s #BZBowl, The Brainzooming Group will track Super Bowl ads to see which ads employ  these tools and principles. We will also look at a sampling of “best of” lists to see if use of those tools match up with the ads on those lists. Look for our #BZBowl analysis recap mid-week following the Super Bowl.

Remember, if you want to tweet your thoughts live on which Super Bowl ads are good, better, best (or even crappy), include the #BZBowl hashtag in your tweets and join us for the smart, intimate, and conversational Super Bowl ad chat before, during, and after the Super Bowl this Sunday, February 6, 2011!Barrett Sydnor

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at brainzooming at or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we’ve developed  integrated social media strategy for other brands and can do the same for yours.