For years, Super Bowl commercials have been synonymous with glitzy A-listers and eye-popping special effects, with advertisers spending millions of dollars.
But a new study by System1 throws a curveball at that playbook, revealing that the real MVPs are less glamorous and significantly less expensive.
A 30-second Super Bowl ad usually costs advertisers about $7 million, and from 2020 to 2023, 62% of Super Bowl commercials have used a celebrity endorser.
Mascots Reign Supreme as Fluent Devices
According to the latest study by System1 Group, spots featuring brand characters have outperformed celebrity-centered ads in the past four years of the Super Bowl.
This new data shows that brands are spending much more than needed when it comes to celebrity endorsements.
The research shows that ads featuring brand characters like the M&M's crew, Snickers' "You're not you when you're hungry" gang or Mr. Clean outscored their celebrity-laden counterparts by a whopping margin.
These "fluent devices," as System1 calls them, averaged a near-perfect 3.7 stars for appeal, brand recognition and overall impact, compared to a measly 2.8 stars for celebrity-centric ads.
Fluent devices are characters that are easily recognizable and associated with a brand. They are crucial in building a positive view of a brand in the long term.
“The consistent use of and investment in a fluent device proves extremely effective across categories, contexts and markets,” said Orlando Wood, the chief innovation officer at System1.
System1 also found that mascot-fronted ads saw a 1.38 Spike Rating on average, translating to a significantly higher chance of boosting sales within the next 10 days compared to celebrity ads’ score of 1.24.
According to the report, fluent devices "have a double-whammy effect on brand recognition and short-term effectiveness."
Advertisers Should Rethink Spending Big on Celebrities
System1's research is a wake-up call for advertisers to rethink using big-name celebrities in their campaigns.
Instead, they should invest in strengthening viewers' positive emotional connection to their own characters.
For instance, M&M's initial ad for the 2023 Super Bowl, featuring Maya Rudolph, bombed with a disappointing 1.0-star rating. Audiences simply didn't connect Rudolph with M&M.
Later, however, when the M&M characters returned, the ad soared to a phenomenal 4.8 stars, proving the undeniable draw of well-loved mascots.
This M&M campaign shows how playing the wrong ads during a high-value event like the Super Bowl can lead to wasting a brand’s precious marketing budget.
"Almost 20% of viewers leave Super Bowl ads not being able to recall what brand the ad was for. This is causing serious wastage," System1's Chief Customer Officer Jon Evans concluded.