Taco Bell and Subway, the two foodservice brands to run national, in-game commercials during Sunday’s broadcast of the Super Bowl, performed well when it was their turn to get in the game, according to research from firms DigitalCoCo and Ace Metrix.
Over the past few years, many restaurants opted to advertise before the National Football League’s championship game — as Papa John’s Pizza, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut did this year — but Taco Bell and Subway paid millions of dollars for the chance to run new 60-second and 30-second ads, respectively, during the game between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.
According to a study from DigitalCoco, a social media strategy firm focused on the hospitality industry, Taco Bell and Subway kept pace with traditional Super Bowl advertisers in the soda and packaged-food industries. The firm monitored the interactions advertising brands received on their Facebook and Twitter pages during the Super Bowl, categorized them as positive, negative and neutral, and tabulated them into a sentiment score on a 1,000-basis-point scale.
The leading brands for the broadcast were Oreo, M&Ms and Coca-Cola, which garnered scores of 902.3, 892.4 and 759.2, respectively, DigitalCoCo found. But Taco Bell was right behind, with a 722.9 score for its “Viva Young” 60-second spot, and Subway scored 640.9 with its 30-second commercial celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Jared Fogle campaign.
“Restaurant brands actually held on pretty strong against these big food brands, and to me that sets the stage that restaurants are becoming a more mainstream brand component of everyday life,” said Paul Barron, founder of DigitalCoCo. “It speaks to the whole process of why brands should bolster their position and market presence. Rather than think about how to reach more mouths, they should think how they can get their household name out there to compete with brands like Pepsi, Doritos or Oreo, which have significantly greater marketing budgets.”
Set to a Spanish-language version of Fun's hit song, “We Are Young,” Taco Bell’s minute-long commercial featured a senior-citizen character, Bernie Goldblatt, leading his friends to sneak out of their senior-care facility to have a crazy night on the town: partying, getting tattooed, and ending up at a Taco Bell at the break of dawn.
Like most brands that use humor in their Super Bowl commercials, Taco Bell drove higher positive sentiment with its funny, if a bit bizarre, ad about senior citizens breaking out of their nursing home, Barron said. But he added that he was intrigued by how well it played with all demographic groups.
“You would have thought it might have fared better with the older demographic, but the ad really seemed to hit on all cylinders in terms of audience reach,” he said. “There’s a much larger group in the under-40 crowd, especially in social media, and Taco Bell struck a chord with them because of the no-holds-barred lifestyle message.
The stars of the ad may have been septuagenarians, but their antics suggested that “you can never be too old for fun,” Barron said
Ace Metrix, a marketing research firm that studies consumer perceptions of commercials, found in its Super Bowl 2013 study that Taco Bell's ad during Sunday's broadcast resonated well with consumers.
The company said Taco Bell had a proprietary Ace Score of 593 out of a possible 950, which was well above the retail-industry norm of 506 for Super Bowl Sunday. The firm calculates an Ace Score by averaging thousands of consumers’ ratings of how watchable and persuasive an advertisement is.
Subway also bought spots for two different commercials during the Super Bowl, and its highest-scoring ad was one celebrating the start of its campaign starring spokesman Jared Fogle 15 years ago.
Watch Subway's ad
Using its professional-athlete spokespeople — including basketball star Blake Griffin, football standouts Justin Tuck and Robert Griffin III and baseball player Ryan Howard — Subway told the story of how Fogle, “fighting for his life” as an overweight college student, lost more than 200 pounds and kept the weight off by eating Subway sandwiches.
The “15 Years in the Making” ad garnered an Ace Score of 562, according to Ace Metrix. Another 30-second commercial, “FebruANY,” featured the Fogle and the same athlete spokespeople trying and failing to name the chain’s “FebruANY” promotion, in which most foot-long subs are $5. That spot achieved an Ace Score of 515.
DigitalCoCo’s Barron said Subway’s anniversary ad stood out from the crowd because it was not going for laughs like Taco Bell’s “Viva Young” spot or most commercials from other advertisers.
“Subway wasn’t really going after that shtick of funny ads, but they stayed consistent with their brand message,” Barron said. “It was about their healthy eating and their connection to sports through their partners.”
The combination of Fogle’s authenticity and the star power of Subway’s spokespeople likely carried the day, even without the over-the-top humor people often associate with Super Bowl ads, he added.
“With Subway, I was a bit surprised that they held on against bigger brands as well as they did,” Barron said. “I think that alludes to the fact that people want to see Subway’s big brand advocates. They probably hit the mark in reaching consumers with what they’ve always been about.”