McDonald's Commercial Tops NetBase's List of Best Super Bowl Ads

Enterprise-scale social media analytics company NetBase has compiled a list of the top five most-buzzed-about ads of the Super Bowl and named McDonald's the brand to beat this year. Using its Brand Passion Index, along with its natural language processing technology to evaluate social media reactions, NetBase was able to process not only volume but also sentiment and passion levels to determine which brands succeeded.

The Super Bowl is known for its lucrative ad spots, and brands that secure a 30-second time slot typically deliver funny and edgy commercials to entertain a massive national audience. But this year, many commercials took a darker, more serious, and emotional tone. Viewers were responsive on social media when a commercial from insurance firm Nationwide delivered one of the more melancholy ads of the night. The ad depicted a little boy going through life while stuck in his childhood because he was killed in an accident and "could never grow up." Social media users responded angrily, with many claiming that the advertising was using a tragic situation to sell insurance. The reaction was so strong that the company issued a statement claiming that the ad wasn't designed to sell insurance, but rather start a conversation.

Despite criticism, experts agree that the ad did what it was intended to do. "What they often find in advertising testing is that you want to grab the attention and sometimes even use negative imagery, which seems contrary to a positive bond, because it excites the brain and memory and sticks better," Natalie Petouhoff, principal analyst at Constellation Research, says. "We may not like what we saw, but it sticks with us." 

"This is why it's important to look not only at the number of mentions, but also sentiment and passion," NetBase CMO Pernille Bruun-Jensen says. "The sentiment might have been negative, but it was a very passionate response, which is effective in terms of advertising."

The top commercial of the night, according to NetBase, was from McDonald's, which also pursued a more emotional rather than funny or lighthearted route, with the debut of the company's new "Pay with Lovin'" campaign. The campaign depicts McDonald's employees asking customers to call a loved one, hug a family member, or engage in some other act of kindness to pay for their purchase instead of charging them for the meal. The ad was well-received on social media, and analysts agree this was a smart move from McDonald's. The company is in the middle of a massive rebranding, and this was a strategic ad that is demonstrating its transition.

"McDonald's is going through a revamp," Petouhoff says, "and may introduce a new type of McDonald's that is more in keeping with the new fast food. Think Chiptole, where everything is made fresh from nonsteroid- or nonantibiotic-stuffed meat," she adds.

"The McDonald's ad touched on sentiment and reached the emotional side of how many Americans in this time of chaos need a financial break and also to reconnect with loved ones. This was about rekindling family and about reinforcing the McDonald's brand value," Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, agrees.

Rounding out the top five ad slots, according to NetBase's list, were Budweiser, Always, and Coca-Cola.

In general, the ads may have been more heavy and serious in tone than in previous years, but they were also most effective, according to Wang. "Part of good advertising is to build an emotional connection with the audience. As we live in an attention economy, the shift away from the classic comedic Super Bowl ads at first seemed strange, but the results reached deep. We're at a time of chaos and crisis, and folks need more than just a feel good slapstick. They are looking for deeper connection. So the seriousness [in] tone was a good change and overall had [its] intended effect," he says.

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