This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Proved the Death of the Brand Narrator

Imagine a television ad depicting an SUV taking precarious curves around mountains and off-roading while a baritone’d brand narrator explains why this SUV conducting death-defying stunts is also the best SUV for your standard highway work commute.

Are you convinced? Is this brand narrator reliable?

The Problem of the “Unreliable” Narrator

Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer for The Content Advisory recently wrote about this concept of the unreliable narrator – specifically in relation to the backlash Gillette received from their recent “We Believe” ad, which took square aim at the problem at toxic masculinity in our culture.

In Gillette’s mind, this was the perfect story for them to tell – taking their existing “The Best a Man Can Get” tagline, and turning it into a “The Best Men Can Be” aspiration in response to the current #MeToo movement.

And the blowback was immediate.

But was it because of the message or the messenger?

Don’t Tell Me What to Think. Show Me Things that Make Me Think.

Narrator-driven ads often explicitly tell you what to think, rather than presenting the viewer with stories, visuals and messages that get you to think.

So, Robert Rose removed the first-party narration from the Gillette ad in a rough edit that poses the question, “Is this the best a man can get?”

Would this version have suffered less blowback?

Well, we just had 58 Super Bowl ads run to millions of people that can help us find out…

What USA Today’s Ad Meter Teaches Us about Brand Narration

Each year, USA Today’s Ad Meter has the public rank every Super Bowl ad that airs.

Now, these scores don’t tell us if the ads “worked” or not – if these companies actually sell more beer or cell phones next quarter – only if people “liked” the ads or not.

But we took these Ad Meter rankings, and added a column that showed whether or not the respective ad contained brand narration.

Name of Ad USA Today Ad Meter Rating Narration (Y/N)
NFL: The 100 Year Game 7.69 N
Amazon Alexa: Not Everything Makes the Cut 7.34 N
Microsoft: We All Win 7.07 N
Hyundai: The Elevator 7.05 N
Verizon: The Coach Who Wouldn’t Be Here 6.95 N
M&M’s: Bad Passengers 6.51 N
Bubly: Michael Buble vs Bubly 6.43 N
Budweiser: Wind Never Felt Better 6.41 N
Google: 100 Billion Words 6.39 Y
Audi: Cashew 6.38 N
Google: Job Search for Veterans 6.37 Y
Mercedes-Benz: Say The Word 6.31 N
Washington Post Super Bowl Message: Democracy Dies in Darkness 6.3 Y
Stella Artois: Change Up the Usual 6.22 N
Verizon: The Team that Wouln’t Be Here 6.18 N
Bud Light x Game of Thrones Super Bowl Commercial 6.14 N
Bud Light: Special Delivery 6.14 N
Netflix: Our Planet 6.11 N
Toyota: Toni 5.88 Y
Pepsi: More Than OK 5.84 N
Kia: Give It Everything 5.84 Y
Bumble: The Balls is in Her Court 5.8 Y
T-Mobile: Dad?! 5.64 N
Doritos | Chance the Rapper x Backstreet Boys Super Bowl Commercial 5.63 Y
T-Mobile: We’re Here For You 5.59 N
Pringles: Sad Device 5.55 N
Toyota: Wizard 5.52 N
Weathertech: Weatherteach Scout: WeatherTech Super Bowl Commercial 5.5 Y
Olay Killer Skin 5.34 N
Marvel Studios: Captain Marvel 5.34 N
Marvel Studios: Avengers: Endgame 5.34 Y
Skechers: Tony Romo – Skechers Big Game “Easy” ad 5.29 N
Avocados from Mexico: Top Dog 5.2 N
Universal: Hobbs & Shaw 5.15 Y
Michelob Ultra: Robots 5.14 N
Bud Light: Trojan Horse Occupants 5.11 N
T-Mobile: What’s for Dinner? 5.1 N
Simplisafe: Fear Is Everywhere 5.07 Y
Colgate Total: Close Talker 5.04 Y
Amazon Prime Video: Hanna (Amazon) Super Bowl Trailer 4.96 Y
Expensify: Expensify This 4.95 N
Budlight: Medieval Barbers 4.86 N
Hulu: The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 3 Preview 4.85 Y
Devour: Food Porn 4.84 N
T-Mobile: We’ll Keep This Brief 4.81 N
Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer: The Pitch 4.63 N
Norweigan Cruise Line: Norwegian Cruise Line Commercial in Super Bowl LIII 4.61 Y
ADT: When it Comes to Smart Home Security, Trust the Pros. 4.59 Y
Weathertech: WeatherTech CupFone: Super Bowl Commercial 4.55 N
Michelob Ultra Pure Gold: The Pure Experience 4.5 N
Sprint: Best of Both Worlds 4.45 Y
Mint Mobile: Chunky Style Milk 4.45 Y
Persil Proclean: The Deep Clean Level 4.38 N
Turkish Airlines: The Journey 4.32 N
Turbotax: RoboChild 4.22 N Official 2019 Big Game Ad with Karlie Kloss 3.97 N
Burger King: Eat Like Andy 3.63 N

Avg. Ad Score w/ Narration


Avg. Ad Score w/ NO Narration


Audiences Preferred the Non-Narrated Ads By a Full 18%.

Now, this is partially intuitive; for decades, advertisers have understood and leveraged the power of testimonials.

But perhaps your customer voice should be more than just testimonials? More than just pull quotes? What if your customer voice could be your entire brand voice?

The Brand Narrator is Dead. Long Live Your Brand.

Our brand stories are incredibly powerful. And the messenger from which we use to tell these stories has just become a whole lot more important.

But, don’t listen to me. I’m unreliable, too…

Eric Olsen

Eric brings more than a decade of award-winning creative brand development, marketing analytics and higher education experience to Helix Education. Eric is a graduate of Bradley University and earned his MBA at Lewis University.