We use cookies. You have options. Cookies help us keep the site running smoothly and inform some of our advertising, but if you’d like to make adjustments, you can visit our Cookie Notice page for more information.
We’d like to use cookies on your device. Cookies help us keep the site running smoothly and inform some of our advertising, but how we use them is entirely up to you. Accept our recommended settings or customise them to your wishes.

Selling Stories: Which Big Game Advertisers Best Tied in Commerce?

“No one likes to be sold anything, but everyone loves a great story.”

It’s something I’ve been known to say often over my 20+ year career in advertising and marketing. But not today. Today, I want to see a buy now button.

At $6 million a spot, with about another $2 million for talent such as Sly Stallone (and rights to all of those movie clips) and another $2 million for agency fees, location fees, production, and lattes, and you’ve got a $10 million opportunity to sell something. Super Bowl ads are often looked at as cultural events that have rarely done anything to gain market share or earn new customers.

I realize that the Super Bowl isn’t Black Friday, and not every moment has to be a commerce moment. But this is advertising. Isn’t this our job?

Who Created a Great Commerce Moment


Walmart is the big winner with the perfect mix of entertainment, featuring familiar characters from the big studios demonstrate the ease of Walmart Pick-up and show the utility of what we can buy from their aisles. Walmart built partnerships across entertainment and CPG vendors to create an ad where everyone wins. In fact, the retail giant came out as perhaps the biggest winner of the night. Assuming that these were also monetization opportunities through its Walmart Media Group, Walmart offset a great deal of its expense through vendor-funded placements for everything from Bud Light and Tostitos to Hamilton Beach, iRobot, WD40 and other branded items, all purposefully placed in the big blue bag.


While P&G’s ads, from Olay’s Make Space for Women to Tide’s #LaundryLater, weren’t screaming to BUY NOW, they all told a story of partnership, culminating in the fourth quarter ad, When We All Come Together, which features products, mascots, and talent from across the P&G portfolio of brands. This is significant because it builds a picture in people’s minds of the P&G “store.” Throughout the “choose your own adventure” style lead-up to the Super Bowl, P&G was using its site to collect user preferences and develop narratives for the ad. A $15 rebate was offered that required personal information (including date of birth), the name of the retailer that was shopped, and a receipt upload. This is a smart and engaging way for CPG brands to start building their first-party data and laying the foundation for a direct-to-consumer future.  

Who Could Benefit from a Retail Partner

Avocados from Mexico

Avocados from Mexico won first place in Merkle’s Digital Bowl rankings for SEO! One point of consideration would have been extending its fictional home shopping network spot to include a retail partner. This would allow for a powerful partnership with a retailer who wants to own “fresh” and even translate the comical idea of unique avocado accessories to physical gifts with purchase in store or online.

Who Missed Out  


A mid-western grocery chain, Hy-Vee could have learned something from Walmart with its Super Bowl ad. It was a great construct, setting up the smart phone as nothing more than a Hy-Vee app allowing you to shop for groceries anywhere. However, there were no brand partnerships. Each app image had generic product placements and the products in the actors’ hands were unbranded. This would have been a real success if they could have built upon the partnerships with their CPG vendors and the many unique products that they stock.

Do Super Bowl ads have to sell? Of course not. But why not develop ads that entertain, inform, and drive to purchase? Layering on a commerce moment by collecting consumer preferences, identifying retailer affinities, and providing the occasional offer would give these brand advertisers the ability to grow their first-party data, ultimately leading to smarter marketing and better shopping and consumer experiences in the future.

Want to learn more? Check out Merkle's Digital Bowl Report here.