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Blending Emotion and Reason: Poppi's Revolutionary Approach in Super Bowl Advertising

February 13, 2024

Why are Super Bowl ads so intriguing?

All ad campaigns attempt to appeal to your emotions. The tactics involved fall on an emotional spectrum, with "Impulsive/Visceral" on one end, and "Logical/Thoughtful" on the other. 

Most ads play it safe. An Instagram retargeting ad subtly attempts to incite an impulsive buying decision, whereas a SimpliSafe ad read on a podcast politely challenges you to think about your home security system.

Super Bowl ads are interesting because they push these principles to their extremes. 

In 𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘬𝘪𝘯𝘨, 𝘍𝘢𝘴𝘵 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘚𝘭𝘰𝘸, Daniel Kahneman describes two ways in which our brains operate: System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is fast and instinctive, using heuristics and biases to make quick reactions. 

System 2 is slow, deliberate, and logical. It requires more effort and attention.

Therefore, advertising’s emotional spectrum is more adequately explained with Kahneman's Systems on either end.

Advertising's emotional spectrum: A spectrum with "System 1 thinking" on one side and "System 2 Thinking" on the other.

System 1 ads are funny, sexy, chaotic, visually appealing, loud, or a combination of all the above.

Remember the 2011 Kia Soul commercial with the hamsters dancing to "Party Rock Anthem?" Of course you do! This was an extreme example of a System 1 ad.

This year's Reese's ad is another example of an effective System 1 ad. It was absurd and funny—the characters alternated between shouting "Yes!" and "No!" at the narrator. The overall message was clear and the product photography was mouth-watering.

System 1 ads should be easy to follow. They should make your eyes light up, allow you to relax in your seat, be entertained, and laugh.

System 2 ads are the opposite. They require your attention, want you leaning forward and thinking hard about the message. They attempt to warm your heart, feel nostalgic, or incite fear. 

The infamous Apple 1984 ad is a System 2 ad. It told a story. With dramatic effect, it appealed to logical reasoning. We didn't even see an Apple product in the ad! Instead, the audience is expected to understand its underlying themes around conformity and empowerment, and emotionally tie these themes back to the Apple brand.

P&G raised the System 2 bar with the "Thank You Mom" ads during the 2010 Olympics. The Super Bowl 48 Budweiser Clydesdale commercial, "Lost Dog," will make you cry right now. I promise.

Speaking from experience, advertisers prefer making System 2 ads. These projects make them feel like they're saving the world and not just peddling chocolate or carbonated water... but that's a topic for another time.

And to be honest, most System 2 Super Bowl ads are overdone. They all follow the same template: The heroes emerge from a dark background with somber music. There’s little to no dialogue. The camera work resembles a home video. The overbearing father catches the daughter’s eye through the rear-view mirror. You often ask yourself, “What is this an ad for?”

An eight-minute YouTube video titled "Super Bowl 2024 Ads That Will Make You Cry" features this year's ads from Google, Kia, Samsung, Dove, Budweiser, and The Farmers Dog. These ads tell great stories with powerful messaging ... but they all blend together like Hallmark Christmas Movies.

It seems as if brands are required to make a choice: make a cheesy System 1 ad or a serious System 2 ad. There’s an entire episode of The Office dedicated to this—Dunder Mifflin corporate wants to go with System 1, but regional manager Michael Scott adamantly pushes for a larger-than-life System 2 concept.

Poppi’s “The Future of Soda is Now” ad challenged the notion that brands must choose one or the other, and they pulled it off spectacularly. 

The ad erred on the side of System 2 but incorporated elements of System 1 typically left out—for starters, the actual product was prominently featured throughout the ad! 

The first 20 seconds are classic System 2. It comes as close to Think Different as you’re allowed to get without eliciting Apple fanatic backlash.

Then, the pausing background music signals a transition, attempting to capture your attention for the bold System 2 hook line: “This will be the last moment you’ll ever think of soda as being a dirty word.”

… but if the System 2 transition didn’t capture your attention, this hook line is immediately followed by a woman shouting, "SODA!!!!!!”

Enter System 1. In 40 seconds, the narrator says the word “soda” 13 times—It’s clear what is being promoted.

The narrator continues with System 2 logic, describing how Poppi’s soda doesn’t include “unclean ingredients and unnecessary sugar.”

At the 30-second mark, we’re fully immersed back in System 1. We see tons of product photography: cans of Poppi in the fridge and on sale at a convenience store. Then we have the iconic moment of all great carbonated beverage ads: the opening crack of a fresh can.

The narrator continues, “It tastes like soda, looks like soda, smells like soda, and fizzes like soda… because it is soda.”

We just hit all of the five senses! The sound of a can opening, followed by taste, look, smell, and touch. This is textbook System 1 advertising, where no logical reasoning is necessary to interpret the message.

Then we transition back to System 2 for my favorite line of the ad:

“It will be the soda your kids and grandkids think of when they think of soda.”

Whoa! Shots fired! Suggesting that soda, as we know it today, won’t exist for future generations is to suggest the inevitable death of Coke and Pepsi … which is a wild claim to make by a relatively new and obscure brand.

But I respect it.

It seems as if the first 20 seconds is just a preamble, which would likely be cut if this were not a Super Bowl ad. Super Bowl Sunday and a visit to Times Square are the only moments when a consumer is actually excited to view advertisements. By mimicking Think Different for 20 seconds, the Poppi ad is signaling to the audience that a meaningful System 2 ad is underway, so you better take your seat and pay attention.

The ad doesn’t really start until the 20-second mark, and then, by flipping back and forth between System 1 and System 2, they create a full spectrum emotional experience that challenges your logical reasoning while making you crave a bubbly beverage.

We need to seriously appreciate how rare this is and how difficult it is to pull it off. 

Also, kudos to Poppi for making even making a Super Bowl ad. Many marketers would exclusively think of this as a niche brand that catered to health-conscious former soda addicts. But as the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute’s research suggests, there is no such thing as a niche brand, only small brands that have yet to create mass-market appeal successfully. 

This ad takes square aim against Coke and Pepsi, two of the most dominant brands of the last century. While history is not on their side, they’ve already accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of writing a Super Bowl ad that viscerally appeals to our gut instincts while challenging us to consider our choices as rational-minded consumers.

Well done, Poppi!

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