The Spots That Raised Heart Rates: Grading The Super Bowl Ads Using Biometrics

Innerscope Research measured biometric responses to Super Bowl ads and–surprise–found that people love puppies.

The Spots That Raised Heart Rates: Grading The Super Bowl Ads Using Biometrics
[Base Graph: Flickr user Dougie Lawson]

Last night, while the rest of us were chowing down on Buffalo wings and watching the Seahawks make a head-scratching pass call that led to the team’s demise, 50 study participants strapped a monitor belt around their chests, so scientists from Boston-based Innerscope Research could capture their real-time biometric responses to the Super Bowl commercials.


Innerscope conducts this annual study because the company learned that, just because a viewer said they loved or hated an ad, that doesn’t mean it was effective or a bust. And just because a media outlet rated it as the “Best” or “Worst” doesn’t mean the viewer at home connected in the same way.

Innerscope’s chief science officer Dr. Carl Marci and his team tested for four things: heart rate, electrodermal response (the electricity in the skin), shared emotions and breathing patterns. The participants’ signals were transmitted via Bluetooth to Innerscope’s computers and fed into the company’s algorithm, which looks for intensity and synchrony to determine engagement. If the subjects’ heart rates all went up, the electricity in their skin spiked and their breathing got faster during a commercial, Marci knew it has connected with the participants. (If the opposite happened, the commercial failed to connect.) Innerscope sells its data to brands and TV networks to help the former better formulate their $4.5 million spends and the latter to more easily convince the brands why blowing that kind of cash in 30 seconds in a wise investment. (Budweiser, Procter & Gamble, and Campbell’s have all been clients.) Here are the ads from last night’s game that Innerscope found most and least connected with its viewers based on biometric data.

Commercials That Most Connected

Budweiser: Lost Dog

“This is a good example where this one worked on every measure,” says Marci. “People at home liked it and our participants did too. You could hear a pin drop in our room.”

Dove Men+Care: Real Strength and Toyota: My Bold Dad

“Dadvertisement” is now a thing, and these two commercials played well to pops. “In the Toyota ad, we watched the child grow up in 60 seconds and saw her first 20 years, which engaged people on multiple levels,” says Marci.


Snickers: The Brady Bunch

This ad was built with good parts: a beloved TV show that added nostalgia, a fresh take on a recurring ad theme and comic relief in the form of Danny Trejo playing Marsha and Steve Buscemi taking on the role of Jan.

Nationwide: Invisible Mindy Kaling

While some other companies ran their full ads prior to the game, Nationwide teased out this commercial in strategic bites, making the big reveal an actual punchline hit with the participants.

KIA: The Perfect Getaway

Would 007 really drive a KIA at 30 mph. Who cares? This funny spoof on the James Band theme scored one of the highest engagement levels of the night.


Commercials That Drew Neither High Nor Low Engagement Marks

Jeep: This Land is Your Land

There was the Peter Seeger song and vistas and international cities and vehicle shots that made it hard to tell the make of the SUV. “It tried to accomplish too much and missed the mark,” says Marci.

GoDaddy: Working

After striking out with its earlier-released puppy commercial and pulling that ad, Go Daddy tried to play to the business owner who is out working while everyone else is watching the big game. The research participants felt “meh” about it. “The company is really changing its formula, and they didn’t generate the big pop that they were hoping for,” says Marci.

Commercials that Least Connected

Jubilia: Tackling Toe Fungus

“They were clearly trying to go big, but I think it was one of these that don’t fit the forum,” says Marci. “You expect pharmaceuticals to advertise on other channels, not the Super Bowl.”


Game of War: Who I Am

The Kate Upton cameo in this video game spot still didn’t do enough to excite participants and Marci sees a glaring reason why this barely registered in the study. “The company clearly has a very niche audience, and, while these advertisers are trying to get in front of a huge audience, there isn’t enough appeal among general viewers.”

Nationwide: Make Safe Happen

Death is never a good Super Bowl commercial theme and this one about a little boy who died bombed with the participants. “It was really dark and heavy in an environment where people aren’t looking for dark and heavy,” says Marci.