Which Super Bowl commercial elicited the strongest emotional response from viewers Sunday?
That would be the warm and fuzzy Budweiser Clydesdale ad, which featured a foal, his trainer and their heart-warming reunion three years later after a parade in Chicago.
That’s the result from about 400 consumers who participated in a study that applied a Bethesda company’s mobile technology during the NFL championship game, won by the Baltimore Ravens over the San Francisco 49ers.
The technology utilizes a mobile app that measures how users react to an event. It was developed by React Labs, a Bethesda company founded by Philip Resnik, a linguistics and computer studies professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“We were very pleased with the results,” Resnik said. “We wound up collecting some valuable data that provide a sense of how people were engaging with the ads in real time. ... That’s important to companies that advertise, since it’s one thing to make commercials that are entertaining, and it’s another to make commercials that are effective.”
It’s especially important to make an effective commercial for the Super Bowl, when costs skyrocket, said William Day, executive director of Frank N. Magid Associates. That research and consulting company worked with React Labs on the Super Bowl study with a team of 10 using online and telephone contact.
The average cost of a 30-second spot on CBS during Sunday’s Super Bowl reached $3.8 million, up 9 percent from last year and 41 percent from five years ago, according to advertising industry publications.
Using the technology on a mobile device such as a smartphone, respondents in the React Labs/Magid study were instructed to push buttons indicating whether they liked or disliked the ads and if they wanted to purchase the product or service. The Budweiser response elicited one of the biggest spikes of likes of the evening, Day said.
“It was on par with the big moments in the game. But it didn’t do much to sell Budweiser,” said Day, also an adjunct communications instructor at American University in Washington, D.C.
The Anheuser-Busch ad drew in many respondents — although most reported little or no intent to purchase a beverage while watching the spot, Day said.
The Budweiser ad, which also ranked first on USA Today’s Ad Meter based on social media voting, depicted the bond that formed between the trainer and the Clydesdale. It was partially shot at Anheuser-Busch’s Warm Springs Ranch, a breeding facility for the Budweiser Clydesdales in Boonville, Mo. It was the iconic Clydesdales’ 23rd Super Bowl spot since first appearing in 1986.
The beer giant asked people on social media to recommend names for the foal, coming up with Hope after more than 60,000 responses. Other popular names included Landslide, Buddy, Star, Raven, Spirit and Stevie.
Another Anheuser-Busch ad for its new Budweiser Black Crown beer wasn’t quite as compelling on an entertainment level but drove respondents to want the beer at four times the levels of the Clydesdale spot, Day said.
Kia’s ad, Babylandia, also was popular with good activation response in its latter part when the father used a voice command to start the Kia Sorrento’s stereo, Day said.
An ad by SodaStream didn’t have the highest engagement scores but had some of most robust activation scores, he said.
“It introduced a new product that spoke directly to consumers’ interest,” Day said.
The Dodge Ram “farmer” ad, featuring a voiceover by late radio announcer Paul Harvey, also resonated well with watchers.
Among the duds were Subway’s blooper-driven “Februhuh” spot, which elicited high levels of “blah” and “dislike” reactions, and Samsung’s “Next Big Thing” spot, which left consumers “confused and drifting,” Day said.
The participants lived across the country and were ages 17 to 67.
Resnik and Day met through mutual friends and decided to become partners on the Super Bowl project.
“It came together fast,” Day said.
The technology developed by Resnik was first used during presidential debates last fall. The mobile platform being used to gauge reactions to events such as debates and ads is unique in that it can generate instantaneous results to different questions, Resnik said.
“A lot of technology does related aspects, like analyzing Twitter,” he said. “But there is no way to ask them questions right away, or get their reaction when the event is happening right in front of them.”
The idea for the technology derived from Resnik’s research on human language and social media that he began in 2011. Colleagues such as Amber Boydstun, an adviser to React Labs and a professor of political science at the University of California, Davis, helped him fine-tune the technology.
He began commercializing it last summer and has filed a provisional patent application.
“The University of Maryland has a tremendous support system for innovation,” Resnik said. “There is a lot of help here for professors to do the right thing when it comes to commercializing their ideas and research.”
Resnik and Day said they want to work together on more projects.
“There are lots of different places where this makes sense,” Day said, such as studying consumers’ reactions to major breaking news stories.