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Style and Substance in Super Bowl Ads

Here’s the scene: a swamp in the woods, at night. In the distance sits a dimly lit bar.

The characters: three frogs, each sitting on a lily pad.


Frog 1 says: “Bud”

Frog 2: “Weisss”

Frog 3: “Errr”

As we all know, this was a popular Super Bowl XXIX commercial in 1995 from Budwesier, created by DMB&B/St. Louis. The Frogs are now dead. Electrocuted by a falling neon Budweiser sign. Ironic, I know.

But what do those frogs have to do with beer?

“If there is a truth it it, it’s not a truth about the product and it’s not a truth even about your relationship to the product when you buy it. This sounds crazy, but I think what you’re really saying is ‘I’m part of the people that get this humor.’ Like ‘I’m part of that group.’ They want to be part of that community and the beer becomes the badge of that community. I think that’s why it works.” – Jeff Goodby of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

It works with Beer, the frogs that is, because Beer is a Style purchase.  But would the same work in advertisements for an automobile? Let’s explore…

This article first appeared on Eric’s Ad Blog at before Super Bowl XLVI.

Style Purchases: What we wear, drink or eat. Style purchases are usually products, like clothing.

Style purchases include: Clothing, Accessories, All beverages, Restaurants, Electronics, Jewelry, Office supplies, Sporting Goods, Cosmetics, Department Stores…etc

So, would the Frogs would work  for automobiles? Can you imagine yourself saying something like “I need a new car, think I’ll go with the BMW. Those frogs are hilarious.”

I don’t think so. That’s because Automobiles fall mainly in the Substance category.  We choose an automobile based on a number of factors that are important to us. Safety, Longevity, Durability, Reliability, Brand Reputation. Purely style ads don’t work in this category.

Not all products fit neatly into one category, style or substance. Many fall somewhere in between. But it’s absolutely necessary to determine which one fits closer to your business category.

Who’s doing style right? Beer ads. Anheuser Busch (Budweiser, Bud Light, Budweiser Select, Select 55, Bacardi) and MillerCoors (Miller Lite, Coors, Coors Light, Fosters, ).  They’ve got it right. All beer ads today are about style. Anheuser Busch does it best with Bud Light. Even their tagline holds a style message: “Bud Light. Here we go.”

As well as Dos Equis and The Most Interesting Man in the World. These ads really set themselves apart from the competition. And they’re all style. The commercials have also developed a large online following.

Substance Purchases: Who we trust with our life, family, repairs, construction, finances, education, consultation. Substance purchases are usually services, like insurance.

Other substance purchases include: Medical centers, Hospitals, Financial institutions, Insurance Agencies,  Automobiles, Travel, Construction, Counseling, Tax services, Education, Engineering, Security, Attorneys, Auto Repair, Child Care, Chiropractors, Financial Planners…etc

Who’s doing substance right? Allstate. Even the taglines tell the substance story: “You’re in good hands.”

This ad was perfectly executed, even calling out the companies who use price – and style – to attract consumers. Way to go, Allstate. This Bud’s for you.

So when the world gathers to watch Super Bowl XLVII, put some thought into what you’re watching during the breaks. Are the ads of style or of substance? Or a little of both? Could they have done things differently?


Because we are the final judge, not the experts, not the ad agencies. The fans. The viewers decide which commercials work and which fall flat.


Get your score cards ready.



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