Super Bowl Ads 2017: Leveraging Emotion to Improve Brand Perception

By: Sticky
on February 10, 2017


In this year’s political climate, companies like Airbnb, 84 Lumber, and Budweiser took an aggressive stance featuring images of inclusiveness, immigrants, and multicultural America in 2017 Super Bowl ads. The ads received such emotional responses that 84 Lumber’s site crashed, while others used the hashtag #boycottairbnb in response to Airbnb’s commercial.

The message of inclusiveness is prevalent in all three of these commercials, but is that what drives the audience to an emotional impact? How do we know the true emotional impact? And does this type of messaging reflect positivity on the brand?  

We used neuroscience to find out.

We tested 2017 Super Bowl commercials from Airbnb, 84 Lumber, Budweiser, and Yellow Tail using our eye tracking and facial coding platform to find out how consumers really reacted to the imagery and messaging of these ads. The results may surprise you.


Our lives are driven by emotion.  What we see is what we make of the world.  We use facial coding and eye tracking to understand how you experience the world.  Our results proved what we knew: Emotion rules. But they also gave insight into whether messages of inclusivity can impact a brand positively.  Our research suggests that it can. It’s a fine line to walk between controversial and innovative, but these ads walk that line and achieve higher emotional impact than traditional spots like Yellow Tail.



Airbnb engaged fast and strong, with a peak emotion of nearly 8% puzzlement within the first 3s, indicating that this commercial would surpass the 5s skipline and has the potential to go viral. The ad continues to display high rates of puzzlement throughout, which suggests that viewers are intrigued, and trying to decipher the message of the ad. This is further shown in the highest peak of emotion at 10% puzzlement when featuring a man in a turban. While puzzlement slowly goes down as the words “Or who you worship” appear, possibly suggesting a puzzled reaction to the current US travel constraints.

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As the ad nears its close and the screen displays #weaccept with the Airbnb logo there’s a spike in neutral emotion. While viewers may maintain a neutral reaction to Airbnb, their logo is seen by 91% of respondents for 1.4s, suggesting that the logo is read and comprehended.


In survey, viewers responded favorably to the ad’s message, with 81% indicating that they agreed with the message.  While 48% indicated that they liked the brand more after seeing the commercial, with only 32% indifferent. Forty-Five percent of viewers indicated that the ad was “really inclusive”, while 29% percent indicated that the ad was “inclusive.”


Overall, viewers remained neutral with some joy in the first half of the ad, and puzzlement in the second half.

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84 Lumber achieved higher emotional peaks than Airbnb, but the survey results suggest that the 84 Lumber brand wasn’t as favorably received.  Only 53% indicated that they wanted to visit the site to view the ad in full. However, 47% agreed with the message of the ad, and 35% ranked it fairly inclusive.


Budweiser hit its first emotional high well before the skipline when someone says, “You don’t look like you’re from around here” to the Busch character.  This peak in neutral emotion indicates that viewers’ interest has peaked enough to keep watching the full spot. Furthermore, later in the ad when Americans are yelling at Busch to go back to where he came from a spike in puzzlement occurs. This suggests that in today’s political climate this immigration story may be hitting close to home.


Sixty percent of viewers agreed with the message of this ad, but 50% remained indifferent to the brand after watching this commercial.  While 33% felt it was fairly inclusive.


Yellow Tail is a fun, dynamic ad with a different tone than the other ads we tested.  We chose Yellow Tail to compare results and see how our inclusive ads stacked up against a more traditional commercial. Overall, Yellow Tail achieved low emotional impact with its highest peak on “This is a Kangaroo.”

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There was a high brand recall for Yellow Tail, but also an indifference of 63% to the message of the ad. Thirty-two percent of viewers were also indifferent when it came to ranking the inclusiveness of this ad.


Commercials that featured images of inclusivity performed higher than a traditional commercial.  As things continue to heat up politically in America, will brands continue to increasingly define their beliefs and messages in commercials? And will this trend continue to yield positive responses?  

We hope so.  Our emotional and visual analytics are ready to help you make your message heard.


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