The Power of Audio in Super Bowl Ads
If you’re playing along with the periodic release of Super Bowl ads in the lead up to the big game, you may have noticed a small trend: a few of them are clearly counting on the power of audio for their success.
Specifically, as Ad Age reported, at least a couple of brands, including Pepsi and Michelob, are leaning on the audio phenomenon known as “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response” (ASMR) to make a more impactful ad. ASMR, in short, prompts people to “experience a calming or tingling sensation in response to certain sounds like whispering and finger tapping.”
It’s certainly the right time to be leveraging the power of audio -- from smart speaker adoption tripling in the past year, to the fact that TV ads aren’t seen 61% of the time (Nielsen Neuroscience). So Pepsi, likely understanding that and a lot more about the “audio renaissance,” puts Cardi B, apparently a loyal devotee of ASMR, in a diner, tapping her nails on a can of Pepsi.
Michelob goes much deeper with the technique, putting Zoe Kravitz on a mountain in Hawaii, drawing a quiet focus to every sound, from fizzy pour to breathy whisper. The ad even has Zoe sitting at a table with two microphones, a direct nod to the way most ASMR videos are made.
Will the power of audio help determine a clear ad winner on game day? We tested these ads on the Veritonic platform in two phases, along with a few other ads released early, to find out.
- In phase one, six ads were assessed across a range of emotional attributes -- happiness, relaxation, uniqueness and more -- as well as for their ability to drive purchase of the product.*
- In phase two, we tested the audio portion of the ads alone to see if perceptions of the spots change.
All the results are above, but here are a few standout learnings:
- If Michelob’s goal was to create a feeling of relaxation amidst the chaos of the Super Bowl -- “a disruptive quiet,” in the words of Azania Andrews, VP of Michelob Ultra -- then they nailed it. The ASMR-fueled ad scored the highest for relaxation. It also showed a reasonable lift in purchase intent.
- On the other hand, the Michelob ad tested relatively low across other measures, from “makes me feel good” to likeability, suggesting that promoting a feeling of calmness alone might not be enough to drive a broader positive response to the ad.
- The Pepsi ad did the best overall, with high scores for happiness, authenticity, likability, playfulness, and uniqueness, perhaps driven by the bigger star-power (Steve Carell, Cardi B and Lil Jon) and humor.
- In the AUDIO-ONLY test, the Pepsi and Pringles ads remained at the top, suggesting that, whether they intended to or not, they’re less dependent on visual to be effective.
- Likewise, the Michelob ad, engineered to be driven by audio, ranked at the bottom of the audio-only test, perhaps because the beautiful visuals aren’t there to support the ad’s frequent silent spells.
When brands and audio platforms are making audio ads, the diligent ones aren't just recycling the audio from a TV ad -- they’re custom-creating based on what’s right for each channel. But, as we note above, there’s a new reality that’s been created by new watching habits: now, a majority of the time, TV ads are heard but not seen. And, no surprise, not every ad creator is thinking about that reality as they create.
It seems that those who are -- the brands engineering their ads to ensure that they don’t necessarily need to be seen to be effective -- are following the winning playbook.
See and hear all of the above spots (and more) here.
* measured by asking how likely people are to purchase the product before exposure to the ad, and after.