That’s $10 million per minute. The Super Bowl is one of the few occasions when TV audiences are actually happy to watch the commercials. Of course, not all Super Bowl ads are great. The Hopkins researchers wanted to know what made the biggest difference between a Super Bowl ad people loved and one they didn’t. It turns out that neither jokes nor cute animals nor sexy ladies made a Super Bowl ad popular. BuzzFeed constantly tinkered with how they created and distributed content, making slight adjustments to headlines, story structure, and content strategy. When Purina came to BuzzFeed in 2014 to run an advertising campaign, Frank didn’t pitch them on a big spot. The idea was to test a bunch of different storytelling approaches against a broader theme until they found a hit, just like BuzzFeed had always done with its non-advertising stories. “Large corporations don’t like revolutions. Because if you’re going to spend millions to put your story in front of people, you better make sure it’s a story they’re going to love.
A few years ago, researchers at Johns Hopkins University examined Super Bowl ads to see who was getting the best bang for their buck. A Super Bowl ad on CBS costs $166,666 per second. That’s $10 million per minute.
The Super Bowl is one of the few occasions when TV audiences are actually happy to watch the commercials. Because the ads are so expensive, advertisers put a lot of effort into making them great. So whereas we skip commercials during the rest of the year, we’ll run back from the kitchen with a mouthful of potato chips to catch Super Bowl commercials.
Of course, not all Super Bowl ads are great. The Hopkins researchers wanted to know what made the biggest difference between a Super Bowl ad people loved and one they didn’t. They took several years of commercials and catalogued them by various factors: humor, length, sexiness, subject matter, use of cute animals, and other elements. Then they looked at which ads were most popular to see which of these factors mattered the most.
What they found was surprising. It turns out that neither jokes nor cute animals nor sexy ladies made a Super Bowl ad popular. The best ads were the ones that had strong narrative arcs.
In other words, the best ads were great stories.
But let’s not underestimate the cute animals, since they play a big part in how much storytelling is upending advertising.
It Sounds Like a Revolution
In 2014, BuzzFeed was in the midst of launching a new kind of advertising agency. Two years earlier, the company hired Ze Frank—one of the internet’s most successful early video creators—to launch BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, a studio that would create original video for the digital media startup and its advertisers.
Most advertising videos shops follow an age-old model: They sell a flashy idea for an ad spot to a client, invest a huge budget to produce the spot, and buy media to support it. The entire exercise is an educated act of faith.
BuzzFeed and Frank, however,…