What do Bob Dylan, Ellen DeGeneres, Stephen Colbert, the Muppets, U2 and the cast of the '90s sitcom Full House have in common?
They all starred in Super Bowl commercials this year, and none of them came anywhere close to the top of the list when it came to sharing of the ads online.
The tepid performance by celebrities in driving online ad sharing is one of the top-line findings of a new study from Unruly Media released Thursday titled "The Science of Sharing 2014," largely focused on the performance of this year's Super Bowl spots.
Among the key findings: that celebrities alone do not drive online ad sharing (this has been true for a while); that the most-shared ads were ones that evoked intense psychological responses; that Microsoft, instead of Budweiser, could have won the Super Bowl this year; and that the game's spots, overall, were something of a disappointment when it came to virality online.
As seen in the chart below, only three of the 12 most-shared ads from the 2014 Super Bowl featured famous faces. They were Bud Light (which packed in several celebs, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Questlove and Don Cheadle), Jaguar (Ben Kingsley, Tom Hiddleston, etc.) and Kia (Lawrence Fishburne).
Instead, the list was dominated by heartwarming ads—the top three were Budweiser's "Puppy Love" and "A Hero's Welcome" and Coca-Cola's "America Is Beautiful"—and a few comedies and visual spectacles.
It's been clear for some time that celebs don't necessarily mean viral gold for advertisers. Only 13 of the 100 most shared ads of all time featured celebrities, according to Unruly's data. There are, of course, exceptions—like Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Epic Split" for Volvo Trucks, which at No. 10 is the highest-ranking celeb spot on the list (unless you count Ken Block at No. 7, though he's not exactly a known face).
Another interesting piece of new celeb data from Unruly: The study claims that 93 percent of viewers who saw Bob Dylan's Super Bowl ad didn't realize it was for Chrysler—a number that's almost absurdly high. (Poor Bob.)
The most shareable ads in the study evoked intense psychological responses among viewers, Unruly said. The biggest winners used warmth and happiness, rather than humor, as their key emotional triggers. Overall, however, the 2014 Super Bowl ads provoked less intense psychological responses than the previous year's Super Bowl ads, Unruly says—noting that, for the first time ever, online sharing of Super Bowl spots was down this year.
The study makes one other curious claim, saying Microsoft's "Empowering" ad had at least as much of a chance of winning the Super Bowl as Bud's "Puppy Love" did, but suffered largely because it wasn't unveiled before the game.
Using its own ShareRank algorithm, which gauges shareability, Unruly found that the Bud and Microsoft spots were quite similar in their potential for pass-around. But "Puppy Love," which launched Jan. 29, ended up with almost 2 million shares, while "Empowering," which broke on the game, got just 80,000.
The other difference between the two? Brand recall. After the game, only 49 percent of people remembered that Microsoft had made "Empowering," while 89 percent knew "Puppy Love" had come from Budweiser.
"Microsoft evoked an intense mixture of emotions, including inspiration, amazement, warmth and happiness—a great mix for a tech product. Specifically, viewers cited learning about the tech, which allowed the creation of artificial limbs and helping the deaf to hear, as the key driver of the feelings of inspiration and amazement," Unruly notes.
"Microsoft made an incredible spot that resonated with viewers. To improve its ROI, it could have branded the Microsoft products more prominently to increase brand recall from 49 percent and distributed the spot in advance of game day to maximize shares."