Published: January 31, 2008
It was one of many 30-second TV spots that advertisers spent millions
to produce and have broadcast during Super Bowl XL. In the ad, a group
of men is astounded by the mysterious “magic fridge” stocked with
bottles of beer that suddenly appears in their living room.
A funny ad. But was it worth the effort for the advertisers to spend
millions in the hope that viewers would remember the brand of beer it
In this case, it was well worth it, according
to Dr. Stephen Blessing, assistant professor of psychology at The
University of Tampa.
One year after the 2006 Super Bowl,
Blessing conducted a study using 84 UT undergraduate students to
determine which Super Bowl commercials were most memorable to viewers.
In the study, 46 percent of students remembered the “magic fridge” ad
and were able to correctly identify the brand of beer it was marketing.
This was in contrast to the mere 33 percent of respondents
who were able to remember the two teams that played in the actual Super
Bowl game that year.
“The things we’ve learned about
cognitive psychology over the last 50 years can be applied to the
making of commercials,” Blessing said. “Watching commercials is what
cognitive psychology is: remembering and processing information.”
Other Super Bowl commercials did not fare nearly as well as the Bud
Light “magic fridge” ad when it came to brand memorability. One such ad
portrayed a fashion show in which a supermodel captures the attention
of spectators as she struts down the catwalk. Behind her, an SUV slowly
emerges from a pool of water as flashbulbs flicker and the spectators
watch in awe.
The glitzy production likely cost a fortune to
produce; yet none of the respondents in the study remembered the ad or
the brand it was selling.
So what makes for an effective ad?
“Advertisers need to link their product into the viewer’s existing
memory structures, as well as promote new links, if viewers are going
to be influenced toward purchasing the marketed product,” Blessing
According to Blessing, there are three main cognitive
psychological components that factor into how well viewers remember a
given ad: sensory processing, working (short-term) memory and long-term
Using these components as a base, Blessing worked
with Dr. Lisa Haverty of the Boston-based consulting firm Brain on
Brand, to develop a system known as CogScore, which is capable of
scientifically predicting how well viewers will remember certain
advertisements. Each of the 25 commercials examined in the study was
assigned a rating based on the CogScore formula to indicate how
memorable the ad would be.
“We wanted to evaluate the model and see if we could accurately predict which ads people would remember,” Blessing said.
Of the commercials used in the study, very few were rated highly with CogScore.
The research showed that few of the commercials were well remembered
one year later. The study also found that even when viewers did
acknowledge remembering a given commercial, they frequently
misidentified the brand as that of a competing brand. A commercial for
FedEx shipping, for example, was repeatedly misidentified as a
commercial for UPS.
A future study of Super Bowl commercials
is in the works, Blessing said, with further research examining how
well the ads are remembered over different periods of time.