Super Bowl Ads Get the B-School Treatment

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on February 3, 2012

What insight do Super Bowl ads really give us into the vision or longevity of a company?

More than we may think, according to Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Take Apple, for example.

The company introduced its personal computer during a 1984 Super Bowl commercial that evoked epic science-fiction films. Ridley Scott, who had gained notoriety for directing Alien and Blade Runner, directed the Apple ad. The commercial intentionally referenced George Orwell’s novel, 1984. It never showed the computer.

“A very frightened (Apple) board of directors said ‘this is stupid! The whole company is riding on this computer and you’re going to spend all this money on a commercial that doesn’t even show it? Pull out of the Super Bowl,’” says Lee Clow, global director of media arts at TBWA Worldwide, the agency that created the ad, in the 2009 documentary Art & Copy.

“And then,” Clow continues, “[Steve] Jobs and [Steve] Wozniak looked at each other and said, ‘well, I’ll pay for half of [the commercial] if you will.”

Clow’s anecdote may seem telling now, as Apple recently surpassed Exxon Mobil to become the world’s most valuable company based on market capitalization.

Professors and students at Kellogg and Wharton will be looking for similar insights during commercial breaks this Sunday as the New York Giants play the New England Patriots.

Kellogg is in its eighth year running the Super Bowl Advertising Review, where a panel of MBA students grades each commercial on a set of criteria and tabulates the data.

The metrics answer the questions “Are (the ads) going to be effective? And, are they going to improve the advertiser’s bottom line?” says a Kellogg MBA in a video about the project.

Wharton will host a similar forum over Twitter using the hashtag #whartonfoa (FOA is an acronym for Wharton Future of Advertising). The school’s marketing professors and industry executives such as Ogilvy & Mather’s Chief Digital Officer Brandon Berger will tweet their impressions using the hashtag throughout the game. The group will post its analysis of the ads at on Monday, Feb. 6.

—Erin Zlomek

Reader Comments

BW's Louis Lavelle

February 6, 2012 4:06 PM

For anyone who couldn't pull themselves away from Sunday's game to follow these events, the Chrysler ad featuring Clint Eastwood took top honors in the Wharton event, while the M&M commercial won at Kellogg. For the full rundown on the Wharton picks go to; for Kellogg head over to

Louis Lavelle
Associate Editor
Bloomberg Businessweek

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