January 31st, 2017

Game On: The Super Bowl Ads That Moved Us


Ace Metrix

Super Bowl ad watching has become a popular sport in its own right, with plenty of viewers paying more attention to the ads than the game itself, and for good reason. It’s no secret that the Super Bowl typically brings some of advertising’s greatest and most innovative efforts. As viewers, we eagerly anticipate the entertaining and emotive storytelling that hooks us in, and spiritedly argue amongst ourselves as to which ads were the “best.” While pundits, pollsters, and bloggers annually predict and post-mortem their “best ads” lists relying on mere opinion or a “show of hands” from small focus groups, we examined actual viewer response to ads airing during the biggest sports broadcast each year since 2010 (the last seven Super Bowls). In advance of the big game just days away, we’ve uncovered the ads that U.S. viewers found most heartwarming, inspirational, humorous, unique, and relatable. We also identified those where the storyline was everything, and just because we could, those we found least relatable. 

And these results aren’t just based on opinion. Using advanced Natural Language Processing (NLP) and analytic techniques, we scientifically derived scores based on actual reaction among at least 500 unique viewers of each Super Bowl ad to isolate the specific emotions the ads were able to project and trigger within us. These lists represent the highest compliment to the advertisers’ creative teams—achieving the emotional connection that they set out to achieve. 

Ace Metrix data has repeatedly shown that these emotionally evocative ads, whether hilarious, heartwarming, or inspiring, simply work. They grab our attention and create a bond with the advertised brand that lasts far beyond the :30 or :60 message – and most important to the advertisers, influences our behavior. In an era where brands are striving to stand for something beyond themselves, these ads stood out.

Some of the ads on the list might be familiar, others quite surprising—but all were successful at making us feel – and for that, we salute them.

 Most Inspiring Super Bowl Ads

Inspiration is a somewhat personal inclination, but 2015 was a year advertisers took to rousing the SB audience. Kudos to Microsoft for snaring three of the top five most inspirational spots by showing us how technology can empower. Procter & Gamble connected by turning a colloquialism on its head, and Toyota relied on the great Muhammad Ali and Paralympic Amy Purdy to spur us to overcome. Frequently occurring words and phrases include “very inspiring”, “motivating”, “empowering” and “uplifting”. 

The Most Inspirational Super Bowl Ads

Brand Ad Title Ad Length Super Bowl Year
Microsoft Estella’s Brilliant Bus 1:00 2015
Microsoft Braylon O’Neill 1:00 2015
Microsoft Empowering 1:00 2014
Always #LikeAGirl 1:00 2015
Toyota How Great I Am 1:00 2015

 Most Heartwarming Super Bowl Ads

These are the ads that touched us and brought tears to our eyes. Budweiser’s masterful play on our soft spot for animals easily stole our hearts, while compassion and fatherhood warmed us well. Frequently occurring words include “heartwarming”, “touching”, “emotional” and “sentimental”.

 The Most Heartwarming Super Bowl Ads

Brand Ad Title Ad Length Super Bowl Year
Microsoft Braylon O’Neill 1:00 2015
Toyota One Bold Choice 1:00 2015
Chevrolet Life 1:00 2014
Budweiser Brotherhood 1:00 2013
Budweiser Puppy Love 1:00 2014

 Funniest Super Bowl Ads

Doritos really did crash the Super Bowl! Frito-Lay’s groundbreaking crowdsourced “Crash the Super Bowl” contest (which ran for ten years beginning in 2006), took full advantage of fan talent, and produced all five of the funniest Super Bowl ads in our list (and reportedly doled out over $7 million to the ads’ creators). This category is one to watch in this year’s Super Bowl LI – will another brand fill the void as well as the user-generated content we’ve grown to love? Frequently occurring words and phrases include “funny”, “very funny”, “laugh out loud” and “humorous”.

The Funniest Super Bowl Ads

Brand Ad Title Ad Length Super Bowl Year
Doritos Underdog :30 2010
Doritos Man’s Best Friend :30 2012
Doritos Ultrasound :30  


Doritos Sling Baby :30 2012
Doritos Goat 4 Sale :30 2013

Most Unique Super Bowl Ads

Here, we recognize the ads that surprised and delighted us by virtue of their ingenuity. Whether taking us on an alien trip through human pop culture or our reliance on staying connected, reminiscing a scene in history or a revered television score, or even anthropomorphization, these ads stood apart. Frequently occurring words include “clever”, “creative”, “witty” and “unique”.

The Most Unique Super Bowl Ads

Brand Ad Title Ad Length Super Bowl Year
Cars.com Talking Cars :30 2011
Mophie Stay Powerful :30 2015
TurboTax.com Tea Party 1:00 2015
Avocados from Mexico #AvosInSpace :30  


Apartments.com Moving Day #MovinOnUp 1:00  


 Most Relatable Super Bowl Ads

Some advertisers aims to stand out by being different. These ads connected with viewers by placing us in the everyday moments in which we can all relate — from being stuck behind a slow moving driver, to surviving the self possessed teenaged years or the angst of unrequited love, to awkwardly muddling through “the talk” or facing (or not) the monster of all mother-in-laws. Frequently occurring words include: “relate to”, “relatable”, “very relatable” and “definitely relate”.

 The Most Relatable Super Bowl Ads

Brand Ad Title Ad Length Super Bowl Year
Hyundai Stuck :30 2013
Century 21 Wedding :30 2013
Kia Space Babies 1:00 2013
Chevrolet Happy Grad :30 2012
TurboTax.com Love Hurts 1:00 2014

 Best Story/Storytelling in Super Bowl Ads

If viewers are going to be moved by advertising, a story is usually involved. Ads with stories keep viewers watching until the end and have the best chance to make a lasting impression. To viewers, these were the “mini films” where the story took center stage, oftentimes without dialogue. Many engaged with story and emotion (it’s hard to be inspiring or heartwarming without a story) and you’ll notice a few repeats from earlier categories, while a few stood on story alone. Frequently occurring words include “story”, “storyline” and “great story”.

Best Story/Storytelling in Super Bowl Ads

Brand Ad Title Ad Length Super Bowl Year
Chevrolet Status :30 2011
Toyota One Bold Choice 1:00 2015
Coca-Cola Arghh :30 2012
Maserati Now We Strike 1:30 2014
Nissan #withdad 1:30 2015
Budweiser Brotherhood 1:00 2013
Budweiser Hero’s Welcome 1:00 2014

 “What Were They Thinking?!” Super Bowl Ads

Just for fun, these are the ads that made us shake our head, the ones that made us ask, “What the….?” Strange, nonsensical, dull, or just way, way out there, these ads saw few of us connect to the creative. While some ads aim to be edgy, they often work only with a certain demographic, leaving the rest scratching their heads. A rare few capture our attention anyway. Frequently occurring words include “gimmicky”, “weird”, “boring”, “not interesting”, “fake” and “didn’t get it”.

 The LEAST Relatable Super Bowl Ads

Brand Ad Title Ad Length Super Bowl Year
GoDaddy.com Your Big Idea :30 2013
Emerald Nuts & Pop-Secret Awesomer :30 2010
Mountain Dew Puppymonkeybaby :30  


Squarespace Real Talk with Key and Peele :30  


Stella Artois Crying Jean 1:00 2011


These lists (well, aside from maybe that last category) recall the best of the best — standouts that linger in our psyche as they were designed to do. Over the years, we have watched with wonder at human struggle, compassion, frailty, and even animal antics. We’ve laughed, we’ve teared up, and we’ve been changed, empowered, and moved to action by long-time advertisers such as Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, and Budweiser, as well as first-timers like Avocados from Mexico, and Apartments.com. How many of these are still lingering in the recesses of your mind?


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