Kevin Maney
Posted by Kevin Maney
  |   4 Minute Read
Category Design Super Bowl Ad Awards

Welcome to the first annual Super Bowl Category Designer of the Year Award.

Super Bowl ads are a unique opportunity for a company to tell a mass audience that it’s offering something different and powerful – something we all discover in that moment that we must have.

Too bad almost every advertiser blows it, while a select few can claim victory.

We watched every Super Bowl ad through a category design lens to see which brands understand the power of defining, communicating and ultimately owning a new category of product or service. We picked three clear winners, each standing tall compared to the bulk of advertisers that mostly gave us just entertainment and brand awareness. 

Category design has long been a key to a sustained, market-dominating business. Chrysler designed and then dominated the category of minivan. Apple did the same for the category of smart phone. Every follower in those categories then had to play by the leader’s rules and try to scratch to get some of the leader’s market share.

Hitting millions of consumers with a category-defining message during the Super Bowl could go a long way toward category dominance. Just look at Apple’s famous 1984 Super Bowl ad introducing the Macintosh. It opened our eyes to a problem we didn’t know we had -- that all other personal computers made us into robotic followers, and Apple was going to change that.

During this year’s game broadcast, audiences may have enjoyed Hulu’s trendjacking of Tom Brady’s possible retirement, but Brady then delivered the same message Hulu has used for years: with us, you don’t need cable. A lovely Michelob ad about helping farmers just told us that if you buy its beer, the company would do a good deed. Ads for Cheetos, Hummer, Disney – all were just for brand awareness. Very few ads communicated something “different” – solving a problem we either didn’t know we could solve, or didn’t even know we even had.

Yet a few stood out as winners. So here they are, and why:

Third place: Pop-Tarts Pretzel

One of the core principles of category design is to define a problem we didn’t know we could solve or didn’t know we had, and propose a new way to fix it. That’s exactly what Pop-Tarts did in this ad.

OK, so it’s a trivial problem: a pretzel doesn’t fit in your toaster. Probably a problem most of us didn’t even think about before. But some part of the audience is going to go: “Hm, you know, I really would like to toast a pretzel.” The ad then literally says: “Pop-Tarts fixed that for you!” By the time the ad was done, Pop-Tarts had created a new category of “toastable pretzel” and launched a category.


Second place: Google “Loretta”

Google’s “Loretta” ad is so simple, so beautifully done and emotional, you might miss the subtlety of its category design. The ad opens as a search box appears and someone types “how to not forget,” then an aging voice, sounding choked up, says, “Hey Google, show me photos of me and Loretta.” 

Google has been around for a long time, but most of us probably never thought of it as a way for aging people to retain precious memories. There’s an undercurrent of showing us a problem many of us know too well: losing memories as we (or our parents or grandparents) age. In the ad, Google essentially proposes a new category of “digital memory keeping” – solving an old problem in a new way by combining voice, photos and artificial intelligence. No doubt millions of viewers saw the ad and made a mental note to get some loved one to do this. 


First place: Hyundai “Smaht Pahk”

We’ve seen ads for cars with parking assistance before. But it always seemed like it was a feature added to the car, like cruise control or a rear door you can open with your foot. In this ad, Hyundai did what good category designers often do: it turned a concept into a “thing” called “smart park” that would solve an old problem in a new way.

The ad uses Boston accents (hence “smaht pahk”) for humor. But it opens by deftly defining a problem we’ve all experienced: can’t get your car into a space that seems too tight. Then, amid the Boston banter, it proposes a new solution: autonomous technology that can take over and park the car better than a human. The “better than a human” message is key to creating the new category, since other parking technologies seem aimed to assist a human. By the end of the ad, we realize there is a new product that can solve an old problem in a new way.

And finally, Hyundai names it, calling this new thing “smart park.” Now imagine millions of people going into a Ford or Toyota dealership, looking at cars, and asking the sales staff, “Does it come with smart park?” Hyundai will force its competitors to use its category language. It has defined the category on its terms. In our book Play Bigger, that’s a category design winner.


Congrats to the winners! 

If you would like to see all the ads, you can find them here on AdWeek.