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Super Bowl Ads Prompt Discussion in Penn State Smeal MBA Marketing Course

Ralph Oliva, professor of marketing and executive director of the Institute for the Study of Business Markets, uses the Super Bowl as a teachable moment in his Integrated Strategic Communications class for Penn State Smeal MBA students. In class the Monday following the big game, he and his students spent time analyzing the previous night’s commercials—some of the most highly sought-after spots in television advertising.
February 13, 2014

Ralph Oliva, professor of marketing and executive director of the Institute for the Study of Business Markets, uses the Super Bowl as a teachable moment in his Integrated Strategic Communications class for Penn State Smeal MBA students. In class the Monday following the big game, he and his students spent time analyzing the previous night’s commercials—some of the most highly sought-after spots in television advertising.

“The Super Bowl has some of the highest reach of all television programs,” said Oliva, “but at $4.3 million for a 30-second ad, it still takes a lot of business to hit a return on that investment.”

Based on a checklist of what makes a good ad—including criteria such as audience resonance, a unique value proposition, an emphatic tie to brand, and a clear call to action—Oliva led the class in a discussion of some of the best and worst ads of Super Bowl Sunday.

“Real-world discussion allows us to be able to put everything we have learned in a textbook and lectures into practice. Thus, hopefully when we are in the same role, we will be able to recognize the potential mistakes and implement strategies to be successful.”

“Real-world discussion allows us to be able to put everything we have learned in a textbook and lectures into practice,” said second-year MBA student Diane Merzbach. “Thus, hopefully when we are in the same role, we will be able to recognize the potential mistakes and implement strategies to be successful.”

Some of the ads that received high marks from Oliva and his class included the Doritos ads, which Oliva called “one of the strongest,” and the Heinz ad, which incorporated effective product placement. Oliva also had positive things to say about the Cheerios ad, which fit well into the company’s integrated marketing plan focused on positioning the cereal as part of family life.

On the list of ads that didn’t work well, Oliva and the class agreed that the M&M spots were ineffective for them. The brand was going for an integrated communications approach, but students who missed the first commercial were left confused at the next.

“This is a very fragile process,” said Oliva of this kind of integrated approach. “When a lot of things have to go right—trust me, they won’t.”

In addition, the class talked about the effectiveness of the Coca-Cola ad featuring the song “America the Beautiful,” which generated some controversy. Merzbach said it was her favorite ad of the night, and that even the negative opinions helped extend its impact.

“This commercial is one of the most talked about—both good and bad—and viral commercials from the Super Bowl,” she said. “Thus, the impact from the ad was able to go above and beyond a single night.”

About the Penn State Smeal MBA Program
The internationally ranked residential Penn State Smeal MBA Program positions students from around the world for their future careers. The two-year program, based on the University Park campus, begins with a focus on business fundamentals. Through summer internships with top companies and concentration opportunities in areas such as finance, marketing, and supply chain management, students then personalize their Smeal MBA experiences to align with their career aspirations. Learn more at www.smeal.psu.edu/mba.

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