This year, dozens of marketing students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management will pile into an auditorium to watch the biggest event of the year for football and party foods: the Super Bowl. But they aren’t there to pay attention to which team will win or how many times Taylor Swift will get mentioned—the students are there for the advertisements.
Now in its 20th rendition, Kellogg’s Super Bowl Ad Review puts experiential learning right at the forefront by tasking students with ranking the ads live. Companies will end the night with letter grade between A and D. (Kellogg is home to the 5th best MBA program in the country, according to Fortune’s ranking.)
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Tim Calkins and Derek Rucker are marketing professors at the school who host the ad review extravaganza. While watching the Super Bowl, many people tune in just to see which ads were the funniest or most shocking, Calkins says.
“In this event, that’s really not the focus—the question we try to think about is which of these ads will be most effective, which ones will build the brand, which ones will build the business,” Calkins says.
Last year, Google Pixel’s ad was deemed the overall winner, and companies like Uber and Doritos received top marks. Others—like DoorDash and M&M’s—didn’t do as well. But for those who get lower grades, the companies are usually in agreement, Rucker says.
“Every year we hear from a number of companies, certainly the ones that do well, often reach out to saying, ‘oh, we’re so happy that we got an A.’ And other ones, reach out and then they say ‘we’re sorry about that, but we’ll try to do better next year,’” Calkins adds.
A 30-second ad costs companies around $7 million just to purchase—not to mention the sometimes months of planning and production involving hundreds of people. Calkins expects advertisers to play it safe this year—steering away from controversy and sticking to light humor and broad messaging.
“There’s every reason to think this will be the biggest television event in the history of the United States, so that’s interesting,” he says.
The ranking criteria includes attention, distinction, positioning, linkage, amplification, and net equity. Viewing the ads in real time adds to the impulsive pressure—but also a sense of excitement.
“It was eye opening, because what’s special about the Super Bowl ad review is that we rate the ads as the student panel in real time, which is the same as how consumers are going to probably consume those messages,” says Nikki Pangilinan, a Kellogg alum who participated in 2022.
She adds the skills earned are ones she still thinks about in work today as an associate brand manager at General Mills.
“The strategy that goes into the thinking of creating a Superbowl ad is universal to anyone working in marketing. And so I still get to use that almost every day. And I think about how to use the same framework that we use for this big deal,” she says.
Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers earn median pay of $138,730, and the field is expected to grow by 6% over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.