Game Plan: Narrative versus Non-narrative in Super Bowl Advertising

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G&R research shows that narrative advertising helps Super Bowl advertisers improve thereturn they earn on their multi-million dollars investments

Narrative ads enhance that value of a Super Bowl investment. However, like in the game itself, the key is balance: both narrativity and persuasion deserve a place on the advertising team.

A recently published study by communications research firm G&R shows that Super Bowl advertising is more effective when it tells a story than when it presents information.

At the broad level, there are two forms of advertising: informative and narrative. Informative ads present the consumer with what the advertiser thinks are well-constructed arguments for purchasing a particular brand and use personal self-interest to mediate response. Narrative ads, on the other hand, use stories to model how consumers can use products and create meaning. They typically include two key elements: chronology, a temporal organization of events with a beginning, middle and an end, and causality, the structuring of story elements that establishes relationships between the elements and allows for causal inference, both presented in an entertaining and engaging way.

This distinction is important today as messages continue to multiply and audiences become more discriminating consumers of information and less accepting of advertising that simply intrudes or interrupts their daily routines.

Gone are the days when the Super Bowl was just another program for airing traditional commercials. Since 1984, when Apple ran its famous commercial introducing Macintosh, successful Super Bowl spots have rewarded the viewer with strong entertainment and distinctive points of visual interest. Advertisers have sought to enhance their now $5 million opportunity to get in front of television’s largest audience by surrounding their message with an integrated, meaning-laden story about their brand. The result is advertising that is more engaging and better liked upon exposure, and is reincarnated in post-game conversations at the office, by the media and on the Internet.

The findings come from G&R’s annual study of Super Bowl Advertising Effectiveness, which the company has conducted for the past 25 years. In the G&R study, a national random sample of men and women between 18-65 years of age who have watched the game are interviewed using an online data collection technique about the ads they remember and their reactions to what they saw.

During 2011 and 2012, 91 thirty-second or longer ads (not including movie trailers), representing the products and services for 67 unique brands were analyzed for narrativity by coding for the presence of standard storytelling devices: chronology, context, imagery, climax, and emotion. Roughly half of the ads contained 3 or more of the 5 narrative elements, and were thus considered narrative, based on that criteria. A comparative analysis of the commercials showed that narrative commercials had an average of 8% to 14% higher levels of affect than non-narrative commercials, as measured by Ad Liking and Purchase Intent.

According to G&R President Scott Purvis, co-author of the study, “Narrative ads enhance that value of a Super Bowl investment. However, like in the game itself, the key is balance: both narrativity and persuasion deserve a place on the advertising team. No Super Bowl game is won with just good passing and no brand survives with just story-telling. Strong running and passing makes for a better offense, and strong narrative and informative messaging makes for a more effective branding program.”

About the Study:
For more details, see: “Narrative, transportation, and advertising,” as published in the International Journal of Advertising (Volume 34, Issue 2).

About G&R:
G&R is an advertising and marketing research company based in Pennington, New Jersey. For more than 65 years it has helped advertisers understand the effectiveness of their advertising and improve its contribution to their business. For the past 25 years, the company has tracked the quality of Super Bowl commercials by polling viewers on the day after the game about commercials they remember and their reaction to them.

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Stefanie Dursin
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Narrative and Non-Narrative Affect in Super Bowl Advertising