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Evaluating ads in unexpected media placements can be like finding a pot of gold in a kitchen cabinet.

In 2023, e.l.f. Cosmetics made an expensive gamble and ran the first-ever cosmetics commercial targeted to young women at the Super Bowl. The marketers at e.l.f. Cosmetics looked beyond the sheer number of GenPop viewers and decided the subset of Women 18-34 were worth the gamble.

So, amid the sea of cars, beer and crypto currency ads that targeted the high-indexing male football viewers, e.l.f. ran a highly disruptive ad for cosmetics featuring Jennifer Coolidge from the cult hit White Lotus.

How did it do? See below to find out!

All ads in this story have been measured by Advertising Benchmark Index™ (ABX), a leading ad effectiveness and consumer insights company with the largest global multi-media syndicated research system in the world.

Evaluating Ads in Unexpected Venues – Super Bowl 2023

Patrick O’Keefe, VP, Integrated Marketing Communications at e.l.f. Beauty, recently spoke at an Ad Age webinar. He described e.l.f. Cosmetics’ marketing strategy as “Bold Disruption with Heart.” His gamble with a cosmetic in Super Bowl 2023 with Jennifer Coolidge certainly conveyed that intent. But did it work?

Case Study on GenPop vs. W18-34: e.l.f. Cosmetics “Sticky” (see ad)  

  • Audience: GenPop

    “Sticky” performed poorly among this audience scoring at an ABX Index™ of 89 out of an average of 100 and ranked 38th among the 60 ads tested. The low Message score of 83 suggests the audience had no idea of the benefits of a “sticky” cosmetic. The low Reputation score of 85 was in part driven by the ABX Gender Equality Index™ (GEI), which measures how the actor was presented, with three of the four metrics being below 100 (see pink scores below). Not to mention the 85 for intended Action!

  • Note: Action is comprised of CTAs including intents to contact company, go to the website for more information, search for more information, recommend, talk about, purchase, and more.

e.l.f. Cosmetics ad in 2023 Super Bowl did poorly with the GenPop audience.

  • Audience: Women 18-34

    However, the picture is entirely different when looking at scores from this demographic group, which ranked the spot as 6th among the 60 commercials at an ABX Index™ of 111. All scores increased exponentially with the Message score at 118 (maybe this audience understood why sticky cosmetics are good?), Reputation is at 107, and the ABX GEI score is 124. The GEI scores are broken into four subsections, which can be seen in the pink box below. These Gender Equality scores for a spokesperson are extremely high. The e.l.f. Cosmetics marketing risk paid off considering how many Super Bowl viewers in this demographic would have seen the spot.

The same e.l.f. Cosmetics ad in Super Bowl 2023 did very well against an audience of Women 18-34.

Evaluating Ads in Unexpected Venues – Super Bowl 2024

In our industry, as the saying goes, “you know you are winning when you see that you are being copied. In the 2024 Super Bowl, there was not one but three female cosmetics/skincare ads: e.l.f. Cosmetics, NYX and Dove.

Regarding the audience, the Kansas City Chiefs won again and this time with a lot of Taylor Swift buzz around her romance with the Chief’s tight end, Travis Kelce. This factor helped contribute to an even larger audience, estimated 123.7 million viewers (source: average audience estimates from Nielsen).

Most important, Super Bowl female viewership was up 8% with 58.2 million (compared to a 5% increase among men). And the biggest year-over-year audience gain was among Women 18-24, with 3.87 million more tuning in, up 24% from 2023.

The three cosmetics case studies below focus only on the 18-34 audience. Among the 69 Super Bowl ads evaluated by ABX, this audience ranked the ads as follows:

  • e.l.f. Cosmetics “Judge Beauty” – 7
  • NYX Duck Plump – 21
  • Dove “Body Confident Sport”- 40

Case Study: e.l.f Cosmetics “Judge Beauty” (W18-34) (see ad)

This e.l.f Cosmetics Super Bowl spot was even more effective than last year’s, pairing the courtroom celebrity Judge Judy with cast members from the USA Network/Netflix TV series “Suits.” (In 2023, Nielsen crowned “Suits” the most popular streaming TV series.)

Set in Judge Beauty’s courtroom, the spot is very funny and fast-moving, achieving a much higher Brand Awareness (108) score than last year; a very clear Message (126), a big Reputation (157) and a strong intended Action of 121. Also, the ABX Gender Equality Index™ (GEI) score for gender portrayal was outstanding. Women rated the portrayal of Judge Judy and Gina Torres with a 126 in how they were Presented, and viewed them as strong Role Models.

The e.l.f. Beauty Super Bowl 2024 ad is fantastic with Judge Beauty (Judge Judy) presiding with high scores on Message, Reputation, Intended Action and Gender Equality for both males and females.

Case Study: NYX Duck Plump “Plump Yourself Up” (W18-34) (see ad)

Logo for NYX Duck Plump lip gloss.One unfortunate aspect for women who use fillers to plump up their lips is they tend to look like ducks from their profiles. Instead of seeing this as a problem, NYX Duck Plump Lip Gloss leaned into it with Cardi B as spokesperson and a cast of “duck” dancers. Cardi was full of personality and fun but scored only a 99 for Gender Equality overall. (see pink bar)

Brand Awareness was surprisingly low at 89, and Message was also a bit below average. But it resulted in great Reputation (157) and intended Action (136). The spot may have been helped by media coverage of the censoring by CBS of the first version of the spot. However, NYX posted that version anyway online for pre-viewing.

This crazy ad from NYX Duck Plump on a product that pumps up lips, making you look like a duck, did not score high on Brand Awareness or Message, but it did on Reputation and Intended Action. Clearly, the audience was intrigued with this new product. However, the spokesperson, Cardi B., had mixed scores on Gender Equality.

Case Study: Dove Body Confident Sport (see ad)

Interestingly, Unilever’s creative “played it safe” by running a public service ad instead of featuring a Dove product in this unusual media event. Dove’s message was for parents, encouraging them to encourage their daughters to play sports to improve their body image (#KeepHerConfident).

Interestingly, the GenPop audience actually scored this ad higher (104) than the W18-34 audience (98). Regardless of Unilever’s good intention, the Message did not resonate among W18-34 at an ABX Index of only 76. Also, the ABX GEI scores were only average for the Females, and much lower for the Male at 86.

Dove did a public service type ad for its Super Bowl 2024 TV spot, with a campaign for #keepherconfident, encouraging parents to encourage their kids to participate in sports. It was a bit below average for most metrics, but the lowest score was an ABX Index of 76 for Message. However, Reputation received a high score 131 and intended Action a 106.

Evaluating Ads in Unexpected Venues – Conclusions

  • When evaluating media opportunities, look at the sheer size of an audience in an unexpected place first, and then estimate your target audience likely to be reached.
  • A brand taking the risk of being a “first mover” has a tremendous advantage in an unexpected media placement.
  • Spokespersons conveying positive female role models are key to successful ads when targeting women.
  • Often “playing it safe” means average-scoring ads – no bomb, but no champion either.
  • How can your Brand demonstrate “Bold Disruption” in your category?

For questions or more information, CLICK HERE.

Written by Marc Rappin, former CMO of ARF, Consultant to ABX, and Angela Jeffrey, VP Brand Management, ABX