These Are the Super Bowl Ads That Triggered the Strongest Unconscious Response Among Viewers

Google, Amazon and SimpliSafe made an impact

These ads triggered a strong response among those surveyed. Google, Amazon, SimpliSafe
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

Google’s 100 Billion Words spot, which was about how real-time translation brings people together, triggered the strongest unconscious response among Super Bowl LIII viewers, according to a real-time study conducted during Sunday’s game.

It’s not clear why exactly this ad resonated so much—only that at its peak, 87.5 percent of 37 audience members had a measurable emotional response during market research company Ipsos and wearable sensor company Shimmer Americas’s in-game study.

“The Google ad had a sharp peak during the political portion starting with the ‘Get Out!’ graffiti,” said Shimmer Americas president Geoff Gill. “Not surprisingly in these political times, this stark command plus voiceover indicating ‘words that can hurt and sometimes divide’ generated a very high peak response.”

Ipsos hosted a Super Bowl party in the screening room at members-only club Soho House in Chicago, where subjects wore Shimmer’s wrist bracelets and finger sensors, which are kind of like watches wired to rings on their index and middle fingers. This system captures galvanic skin response, which, according to MIT, is when skin “momentarily becomes a better conductor of electricity when either external or internal stimuli occur that are physiologically arousing.”

Participants included friends and family of Ipsos employees, as well as individuals enlisted by a recruitment firm. Patriots fans accounted for about half of the group, Rams fans made up the other half.

As people watched the game and ads from easy chairs in the Chicago theater, they were able to talk, eat and drink as they normally would at a Super Bowl party. Meanwhile, Shimmer’s NeuroLynQ system measured non-conscious responses, wirelessly transmitting the data to a server for processing to create a live feed of biometric results on everything that happened during the broadcast.

Using skin sensors to gauge unconscious response to ads, Ipsos and Shimmer Americas wanted to demonstrate which advertisers made an emotional impact—good or bad—on Super Bowl Sunday. Emotional response is a particularly important metric for brands because it indicates relevance and impacts consumer recall. Repetition does, too.

In a survey after the game, Ipsos determined T-Mobile, Verizon, Budweiser, Bud Light and Pepsi had the highest recall. All but Budweiser aired multiple spots. Ipsos said some participants said they liked the ad with Chance the Rapper and the Backstreet Boys as well, but they left out the advertiser, suggesting Doritos triggered an emotional response, but not enough to register beyond the game.

These viewers had the strongest unconscious response to Google’s ad, but that doesn’t make it the overall favorite. Instead, it means the highest percentage of viewers had the strongest unconscious response. Ipsos and Shimmer did not qualify whether reactions to any of the ads were positive or negative in this particular study, but Gill said they often do for clients.

Gill likened galvanic skin response to sweat because the same glands are activated, calling it a “pretty nice clean measure of when something is relevant to you.”

“When I describe this, I often use the ‘cocktail party effect,’” he said. “There are lots of conversations going on and then you hear your name from across the room. That’s unconscious monitoring of all the activity in the room or all the conversations at all times and it’s only when it’s relevant to you that it comes to your attention.”

Ipsos’ list of ads that generated the strongest response also includes: Amazon and SimpliSafe (75 percent of audience members had an emotional response), T-Mobile (73.3 percent for “Lyft Driver” and 68.6 percent for “Keep it Brief”), Toyota (69.7 percent), Mint Mobile (69.4 percent), Doritos (68.6 percent), Pepsi (67.6 percent) and Mercedes-Benz (65.5 percent).

Amazon’s ad, which focused on why some voice-enabled devices are not meant to be, is the only spot to appear in Adweek’s top five Super Bowl LIII ads, reader favorites and the Ipsos list, implying it was well-liked and viewers’ unconscious minds agreed.

Adweek reader favorites that also resulted in a strong emotional reaction include: the Backstreet Boys and Chance the Rapper for Doritos; Steve Carrell, Lil Jon and Cardi B for Pepsi; a man capable of controlling the world around him with his voice for Mercedes-Benz; and both a case of mistaken identity and a friend who texts too much for T-Mobile.

Ads with a high peak emotional response without any other accolades include: SimpliSafe’s take on the perils of modern life; Toyota’s ode to Toni Harris, who aspires to be the first female NFL player; and Mint Mobile’s attempt to illustrate what is right and what is not right with a family chewing chunky-style milk. This implies the emotional response was negative. Reader reactions align: 58 percent did not like SimpliSafe and 65 percent did not like Mint Mobile.


@lisalacy lisa.lacy@adweek.com Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.
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