University of Tennessee

UT Researchers Find “Thinking Hurts Liking” Your Favorite Super Bowl Ads

January 30, 2020

If a particular advertisement tickled your fancy during the Super Bowl , it was likely connected with your heart, not your head. 

That’s according to a University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Haslam College of Business study focused on how viewers respond to advertisements when they engage in cross-media consumption. Neeraj Bharadwaj, professor of marketing, and Michel Ballings, professor of business analytics and statistics, with co-author Prasad A. Naik of the University of California, examined how viewing television advertising and social media posts about the ads on another medium affects audience response.

The analysts used a comprehensive dataset to estimate the effects on ad likability of Super Bowl advertising and the advertised brands’ Facebook content. 

They found that the elements of the TV ads, like size of the ad budget, length of the ad, and consumer co-creation of ads, which are controlled by the ad’s developers, have the strongest positive impact across all variables on ad likability. Additionally, an ad’s serial position (i.e., primacy or recency) has little effect, as was the case when viewers relied solely on television. They also learned that both screens directly and significantly impact ad likability, with TV contributing 60 percent to ad likability, and social media contributing 40 percent.

Perhaps not surprisingly, “thinking hurts liking” in regard to Super Bowl ads. A TV ad featuring an informational (rational) appeal requires thinking about that appeal, which negatively affects how much viewers like the ad. (The findings from social media corroborated this effect). People viewing the Super Bowl are looking for entertainment, rather than understanding of deep intellectual issues. 

Bharadwajsays that ads with emotional appeals – such as those eliciting laughter or the “warm glow” that arises from contributing to a cause – are well suited for the Super Bowl.

“This is a reminder to marketers that Super Bowl ads should be designed to increase entertainment value, while hopefully reinforcing the brand’s points-of-difference,” he says.

The effects of cross-media consumption elicit another consideration for advertisers.

“Super Bowl commercials represent an important ‘game within a game’ competition for marketers,” Bharadwaj says. “Our research shows that consumers’ attitudes toward Super Bowl ads are shaped by not only the ads appearing on the television screen, but also by the messages posted by other consumers on the brand’s social media site and accessed on another screen.” 

These findings suggest that marketers broadly consider the direct impact of information from various sources on consumers’ appraisals, and look to orchestrate a consistent and complementary brand experience across multiple screens. 

For consumers, these results might be a call to perform due diligence, researchers say. Don’t buy a given product or service just because you liked their Super Bowl ads. Thinking may hurt liking, but it certainly helps when considering your next purchase.

The paper, “Cross-Media Consumption: Insights from Super Bowl Advertising,” was recently published in the Journal of Interactive Marketing.


Scott McNutt, business writer/publicist (865-974-3589,