Best Super Bowl Ads Without Sound

Can you get the message without hearing the ad?

Source: Katie Tegtmeyer, https://www.flickr.com/photos/katietegtmeyer/67865829

Every year marketing experts get asked which ads were the best or worst in the Super Bowl. I’m going to take a different tack because I had an unusual (for me) Super Bowl experience last night. I was at a party which actually was a normal party with adult conversation, meaning the sound for the game was turned way down. That meant ads had to work on a visual level: can I get your key message even if I can’t hear what you’re saying?

The idea that visuals matter most on TV is not a new one. The story goes that President Ronald Reagan’s White House paid much more attention to how the President looked on TV than what was said about him, and multiple commentators have suggested watching political debates without sound is the best way to see them. In out-of-home viewing and digital/mobile advertising, sound quality is often an issue. Here’s my take on which Super Bowl ads worked best when you couldn’t hear the sound.

The Best

2. AirBnB. Politically controversial or not, the visuals of this last-minute addition to the Super Bowl line up were arresting and the message easy to follow. Bonus points for a clever hashtag, #weaccept.

3. Nintendo Switch. A teenage boy moves seamlessly from playing a game on his phone to playing on a console. Simple, clear illustration of the key benefit of the device.

4. Tide. Watching Terry Bradshaw go crazy over a stain followed by a surreal meeting with Jeffrey Tambor was a treat and definitely got the cleaning message across.

5. Michelob Ultra. I find the notion of serious athletes pounding down light beers amusing, but there’s no question this conveyed the position of Ultra as the light beer for athletes. Bonus: without the sound, you don’t hear the weirdly discordant musical theme from Cheers.

6. The Handmaid’s Tale. Another visually arresting ad that caught the attention of the room I was in, provoking discussion about, of all things, a book!

7. World of Tanks. Tanks crashing into sendups of TV shows. For building brand awareness, I thought this worked really well. Bonus: for a few ads afterwards, I was watching to see if tanks were going to appear.

8. Audi. Kind of retro — does anyone still build soap box racers? — but a compelling visual story and the tagline at the end conveys the message.

9. Baywatch. The visual salutes to the original show made this easy for everyone at my party to recognize. You didn’t need the sound to understand the message. Which you could argue was true of the original show as well . . .

10. Sprint. As long as you’ve seen the recent Sprint campaign featuring former Verizon commercial actor Paul Marcarelli, this works well. There’s Paul, switch to Sprint. (As an aside, I suspect this campaign is advertising Verizon as much as it does Sprint.)

Soundless Fails

1. Avocados from Mexico. This was arguably the single wittiest ad of the night, with brilliant riffs on just about every secret society and conspiracy theory ever made. If you can’t hear that, you have no idea what’s going on here.

2. Go Daddy. Avocadoes with less wit. A lot of good gags about the Internet, but hard to follow without sound.

3. Turbo Tax. Dominant reaction in the room I was in: “ew, that’s gross” as egg yolk leaked out of the Humpty Dumpty figure.

4. Mr. Clean. Weirdly stereotypical frustrated housewife and Mr. Clean apparently aspiring to be a pole dancer was another creepy image.

5. Budweiser. It kills me to call this a fail: I love this ad with the sound. A compelling immigrant tale that may actually be the ad we need now. The problem is without the dialogue you miss a lot of the tension in the tale (“you don’t look like you’re from around here,” “go back home”) and the visuals themselves are often murky.

Love or hate a soundless ad? Reply below!

A practical business professor musing on marketing and management from his not quite ivory tower. Writings do not represent the views of Northeastern University

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