May Cause Discomfort

According to a group of researchers at UCLA, last night's Super Bowl ads might've missed the mark. Reuters has the story:

Super Bowl ads, which cost $85,000 per second during this year's game, fumbled overall as they failed to connect with viewers or just scared them, according to researchers who tracked people's brain activity.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles scanned the brains of five men and five women between the ages of 18 and 34 as they watched Super Bowl ads to measure the emotional impact. Participants viewed the commercials through goggles as they lay inside a donut-shaped machine called a functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, machine.


"We saw huge activity going on in the amygdala -- the threat detector -- so much so that we had to go back and double check our software," [Dr. Josh] Freedman said in a telephone interview.

The ads are still our favorite part of the show — feel free to question our manhood — but right now we're kicking ourselves for not posting information we received last week in a press release from the University of Texas. We totally missed out on a told-you-so moment.

Marketing Professors Leigh McAlister and Wayne Hoyer and doctoral student Jennifer Young studied consumer reactions to humor in past Super Bowl commercials (which often create humor with violence or sexually explicit content). Their statistical analysis identifies points at which storylines escalate the level of "abnormal behavior" causing intense positive or negative feelings about the ad.

"There are always these moments in the humorous ads when a distinct split in a consumer's reaction occurs," McAlister said. "Targeted consumers react positively. Those customers who are not part of the target market react negatively."

The problem for large companies is that while a Super Bowl ad may work very well at capturing the interest and approval of the target audience — usually young, heterosexual males — it may turn off many non-target audience members.

And now we can say we told you so. — Keith Plocek

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