Analyzing the cognitive impact of ads: why PepsiCo’s “Road to the Super Bowl” nailed its multi-brand approach

We used AI and cognitive science to analyze which Super Bowl ads have a longer-term impact on the audience, and which did a better job at associating their creative to their brand.
Catalina Lucena Maguire
8 min to read

Analyzing the cognitive impact of ads: why PepsiCo’s “Road to the Super Bowl” nailed its multi-brand approach

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With airing costs averaging $233K a second in this Super Bowl edition, pressure is on to make creative that is as impactful as possible on anyone watching it.
Build a memorable ad that people don’t associate with your brand and you might just be helping your competitors. Build a highly branded ad with low cognitive impact and your awareness is unchanged after all those millions spent on media. Show too many elements and risk being forgotten in minutes. The trade-offs are everywhere.

That’s especially true for the companies taking the more ambitious approach of multi-branded ads. Take PepsiCo’s “Road to Super Bowl”. 6 brands, 9 different products, all advertised simultaneously.

Manning brothers, Jerome Bettis, Terry Bradshaw & Victor Cruz join in Pepsi's & Frito Lay's "Road to he Super Bowl" commercial

Behind the impact of PepsiCo’s “Road to Super Bowl” ad

Building a memorable ad is a balancing act combining the type and amount of elements, the dynamism and emotional content of the scenes, the zoom in and out of the camera, and many others. Does a dynamic scene build recall? It could do it through higher engagement, but it could also harm it by introducing too much cognitive load—reducing the energy that the brain can devote to saving the event in memory.

PepsiCo combined these factors quite masterfully, achieving recall levels 17% higher than the average Super Bowl ad.

Is PepsiCo capturing the benefits?

A memorable ad can be remembered for years but never be associated with a particular brand. Ultimately, brand awareness is built through a combination of two fundamental elements: memory and attention. First, the product or the logo have to attract attention from viewers. Second, they need to be saved in their memory. Memorable combines these two factors into a Brand Association Index.

PepsiCo did a great job with the Brand Association Index too, ranking 24% higher than the average Super Bowl ad in 2022.

Here are some examples of those factors coming together:

Mountain Dew product placed in high-recall scene + capturing most of the attention

  • 44 recall score - aided by high emotion and focus 
  • 16.7% attention on Mountain Dew product -- using bottle as microphone works we

Mid-recall scene with attention focused on the Doritos

  • 52 recall score - aided by distinctiveness of the scene
  • 6.4% attention on Dorito

This was also the case in most scenes showcasing products in PepsiCo’s ad.

Is everything perfect?

Not really, although PepsiCo’s ad did many things right. As an example, here’s an almost-ending scene where both the memorability and the brand association are really low.

  • Recall score is 18.3, significantly below the average in this year’s Super Bowl.
  • No logo gets significant attention. 1% attention on Pepsi’s logo, 2.8% Doritos logo 2, 1.9% Lay’s logo, 0.9% Bubly logo, 1.7% Tostitos logo and 1.6% Mountain Dew logo.

Was this obvious?

Research shows that humans are surprisingly bad at predicting what will be remembered—literally comparable to flipping a coin in the air. While PepsiCo did a great job here, most ads miss opportunities to cause a lasting impact or to capture the benefits of their creative. This is where high-accuracy AI makes a difference.

In times of diminishing returns to media optimization, improving creatives is the new high-ROI focus for brands. AI platforms like Memorable are becoming necessary copilots to maximize value.

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