From ‘Old Town Road’ to Outer Space: MSU Professors Dub Winning Commercials in Super Bowl LIV

‘The Cool Ranch’ from Doritos Takes the Lead, with Google in Second Tugging on Human Heartstrings

A stand off on “The Cool Ranch” won the commercial bowl at Michigan State University, as MSU advertising professors rated the commercials in Super Bowl LIV.

In the winning Doritos ad, two cowboys confront each other in a dancing duel to comedic effect. The scene pits Sam Elliott, the voice of Ram Trucks, against Lil Nas X, the rapper who performs the song “Old Town Road.”

For the 23nd year in a row, professors from MSU’s Department of Advertising + Public Relations rated commercials during the Super Bowl. The event was hosted at Lansing Brewing Company on Sunday, Feb. 2, in Lansing, Michigan, where faculty watched the game and rated national commercials on a scale of 1 to 5.

“The Super Bowl was a great game, and the ads were just as good,” said Bob Kolt, an AD+PR professor of practice at MSU. “I think it was a good year for the Super Bowl all around. We had a weak start for the commercials, but they really picked up. We saw some really funny, memorable stuff.”

The ads for Super Bowl LIV brought a year of high-speed racing, outer space references and hidden identities, with a nod to AI (artificial intelligence) virtual assistants. Coming in second in the ad ratings was Google’s “Loretta,” a social media favorite that brought viewers to tears for its emotional resonance.

“These are $5 million spots. I think the game is not as important as it used to be for the commercials, because the brands that are placing commercials in the game are trying to expand the impact of those dollars, so that the impact extends well after the game,” said Andrew Corner, a professor of practice in advertising at MSU. He said the commercial featuring Mr. Peanut achieved this successfully with their series about the character. “The company has done a nice job.”

In third place, MSU professors chose Rocket Mortgage’s “Momoa at Home,” which revealed the famous actor shedding layers of his own body to reveal a frail human being as he relaxed on the couch. The ad was Corner’s favorite spot in Super Bowl LIV.

“It was clever,” said Corner. “It was well done. It had a twist in it that was unexpected.”

Coming in fourth and fifth place, respectively, were Jeep's "Groundhog Day" and T-Mobile's "Tell Your Mama."

Faculty also nominated commercials for excellence in the areas of strategy, creativity and production. Doritos and Rocket Mortgage stole the show with their creativity, alongside the ad for Planters, which revived Mr. Peanut in a cinematic graveyard scene. The commercials for Mulan, Google, New York Life and Doritos also stood out for their excellent production quality. When it came to strategy, professors applauded TurboTax, T-Mobile, New York Life and Facebook for effective use of their advertising spots.

“I actually liked the Doritos ad, too,” Corner said. “I like how they leveraged the popularity of the song from last summer.”

Corner said the Doritos ad brought together two recognized personas from different generations, one representing a hardworking truck and the other making waves as a famous rapper. The ad positioned these two celebrities in a way that formed a bond between two generational icons using music.

“It kind of brought the generations together,” he said.

Fashina Aladé, Ph.D., assistant professor of AD+PR, also thought the ad was successful. “I really did love the Doritos ad,” she said. “They did a good job of playing to different generations.”

As for trends during the commercial breaks, Aladé said the advertisements seem to take one of two directions during Super Bowl LIV.

“I’m seeing the ads fall into two buckets — either the social justice oriented, more serious ads, or the fun, silly ads,” said Aladé. “My favorite ad was the New York Life one. Of the kind of heavy-hitting emotional ones, to me that hit the spot with all the feels, while not being over the top.”

The lowest rated ads at the event were those from Pop-Tarts and the campaign of U.S. President Donald Trump. Although the Super Bowl has often included political ads, professors rated the Trump ad poorly, naming it the lowest performing commercial in their ratings. Instead, professors favored ads that made them smile, laugh and view things from a different perspective.

“The Doritos dancing cowboys ad is going to be iconic for years to come,” said Kolt.

By Melissa Priebe

Explore Advertising + Public Relations