Is The Most Annoying Super Bowl Ad Ever Also The Most Effective?

Is it possible that an ad that has made “most annoying of all time” lists and been dubbed the worst ad ever actually be one of the most engaging and effective?

We all have ads that make us cringe, or even reach for the remote. My personal least-favorites are “screamer” ads, usually run by local businesses like mattress or furniture stores. These channel switch-inducing ads have a spokesman (it’s always a male spokes-screamer) who yells at the camera to announce the store’s latest sale.

It’s not just local firms that create annoying commercials. The CareerBuilder “Hey, Dummy” 2009 Super Bowl ad first aired five years ago, but continues to irk viewers.

The ad recounts one woman’s workplace frustration in such an excruciating way that viewers experience their own pain.

Even though critics widely panned the ad, and few viewers were likely to find it more enjoyable than Dalmatian puppies and Clydesdales, neuromarketing firm Innerscope Research found something to like about the ad.

Using biometrics to evaluate viewer experience, Innerscope rated the ad as,

…the most “emotionally engaging” ad of that year’s Super Bowl – and one of the most engaging Super Bowl ads it has studied.”

Even as it made viewers cringe, it kept them emotionally engaged. The biometric measurements showed engagement at a continuously high level, with multiple peaks at even higher levels:


The disconnect between viewer and critic opinions and measured engagement underscores a point I make constantly: self-reporting and conscious reactions are often very different from non-conscious reactions. People who say, “I hate that” may, at the same time, be riveted by the content. They may even identify with it, as in this ad portraying workplace frustration.

According to Innerscope, their positive biometric data matched the real-world results of the ad, which generated millions of online views.

The real question facing consumer neuroscience ad studies, of course, are what business results will be achieved.

Consumer neuroscience tools, which also include EEG brain wave measurement and fMRI brain scans, are increasingly capable of measuring viewer engagement and emotional impact, but predicting business outcomes is still somewhat elusive. An ad may be highly engaging, but not necessarily drive product sales or even brand recall.

Still, with Super Bowl spots costing more than $4 million in 2015, being able to predict in advance which ads (or version of an ad) will at least keep viewers paying attention is no small progress.

Roger Dooley is the author of Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing (Wiley, 2011). Find Roger on Twitter as @rogerdooley and at his website, Neuromarketing.