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Want to score a touchdown with your Super Bowl ad? Invest in market research

By Grace Griffin, student writer
Monday, February 5, 2024

Every February, millions of Americans tune in for the largest television event of the year, where the best two football teams in the league compete for the championship title. The Super Bowl is the most watched event every year — with more than 115 million viewers in 2023 alone — but even if you don’t get a kick out of football, there are other reasons you might sit down Sunday night to see the game.

It could be watching your favorite artist perform during the famed halftime show, like the Weeknd, Beyoncé, Prince, the Rolling Stones or Stevie Wonder. Or perhaps it’s the infamous commercials that have your eyes glued to the screen.

Michael McCune headshot

Michael McCune

Though the segments are only 30 to 60 seconds long, it takes months and months to prepare a great ad for the Super Bowl. Each brand knows that to appeal to the masses, research, trial and error are needed. The ad needs to be entertaining and stand out in all the excitement.

To better understand how to create a winning ad, Broad News sat down with Michael McCune, fixed-term faculty of marketing and senior director of insights and analytics at Kellanova. This arm of the rebranded Kellogg Company encompasses snack-food brands like Pringles, Cheez-Its and Pop-Tarts.

For nearly 15 years, McCune has led consumer data strategy and analytics with the multinational food manufacturing company. He’s had the excitement of working on the first Super Bowl ad for Pringles in 2016, the launch of Cheez-It Snap’d and the acquisition of RXBAR. Through these projects and more, McCune’s game plan has always centered on keeping the consumer front and center in all business decisions, using both quantitative and qualitative data.

McCune, a 2003 alumnus of the Full-Time MBA program, joined the college’s staff in 2022. He teaches an elective on marketing research for advertising and has been on the board of the M.S. in Marketing Research and Analytics program since 2010.

In this Q&A, McCune passes along his expertise about what it takes to make a successful Super Bowl ad, advice for students and more.

Broad News: Why do you believe Super Bowl ads have become such an infamous tradition?

McCune: The Super Bowl is the most watched live event of the year. It is a captive audience, and people pay attention to the commercials. It is the biggest day in advertising where any brand can make a huge splash.

Broad News: What does research involve ahead of launching an ad for the Super Bowl?

McCune: We spend a lot of time with consumers to understand why they love our brands and how they fit into their lives. This helps our advertising agency find the right idea, story and tone for our ads. This even helps us pick the right celebrities. This year’s celebrity in the Pringles ad is Chris Pratt.

After we develop the ad, we expose it to a small group of consumers to get feedback. We expose consumers to pre-production ads, either online or in person. We sometimes expose people within the context of a TV show, webpage or social feed, which is sometimes referred to as clutter reel. We ask consumers questions, usually in a survey format, to understand if the ad is easy to understand, entertaining, well branded and delivering a motivational message.

Broad News: What are some of your methods for evaluating advertising?

McCune: The best way to evaluate advertising is to play back the story of the ad in your head. If you remember the ad and the brand is at the center of that story, then your ad will be better than most! I encourage marketing students to sign up for USA Today and do that exercise for all the Super Bowl ads.

Broad News: What are flags to you that signal an ad will fumble?

McCune: Ads in the Super Bowl fail for two reasons: First, they are entertaining but don’t relate to the brand. If you can replay the story of the ad without saying the brand name, then it didn’t work. And second, the ad is confusing or hard to understand. If a viewer doesn’t understand the ad, then they will mentally tune out and nothing else matters.

We spend a lot of time with consumers to understand why they love our brands and how they fit into their lives. ... We ask consumers questions, usually in a survey format, to understand if the ad is easy to understand, entertaining, well branded and delivering a motivational message.

Broad News: What kind of advertisement focus would you say creates the best results: ethos, pathos or logos? What is your favorite to create and/or watch?

McCune: Great advertising can come from any of these as long as it fits with the brand and category. A more rationally driven purchase, like a household appliance, will take a more logos/ethos approach, while purchases that are more impulsive purchases, like food, generally require pathos.

Really great advertising generally majors in one but contains elements of all three. Consider an automotive commercial. It may major in logos with information about the features, like miles per gallon, but it could also include a J.D. Power endorsement (ethos) and visuals of the car driving in beautiful scenery (pathos).

Broad News: What inspired you to get into advertising/marketing?

McCune: I started my career working in politics. I always enjoyed trying to persuade people. Marketing is the same concept but without the nastiness of politics!

Broad News: How much does advertising and marketing research cross over?

McCune: A tremendous amount! Great advertising is inspiring by understanding both human truth and motivation. Market research helps us uncover these insights to build the best messaging. Market research also helps us test new ideas and ads before they go to market.

Broad News: Do you have any advice for students looking to tackle marketing research and get into this field? Where should they start?

McCune: They should start by paying attention to ads. Dissect them and think about what is working and not working. If you enjoy that, then this might be the right field for you. There are plenty of ways to work in this industry, from advertising/media agencies to market research companies to corporate marketing roles.

Broad News: What ads are you looking forward to watching this year?

McCune: Pringles, of course! M&M’s, Pepsi, Budweiser all have been standouts in recent memory, so I anticipate they will continue their strong performance.

Broad News: Unfortunately, the Detroit Lions were eliminated. Is there another team you hope will win the Super Bowl?

McCune: No, now I am just rooting for a good game, with the Lions eliminated.

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