How PepsiCo makes winning Super Bowl ads time and again

Learn how PepsiCo creates winning Super Bowl ads each year, using the Zappi Amplify Ad System to bring consumer insights into every step of the creation process.

Key outcomes

  • Winning Super Bowl ads

    Cheetos “Can’t Touch This” was awarded a Cannes Lions Grand Prix in Creative Strategy and a Silver Lion in Creative Effectiveness. Lay’s “Golden Memories” and Cheetos & Doritos “Flamin Hot” ads were voted among the top 5 2022 Super Bowl ads by consumers.

  • Optimized to drive creative impact

    Rich consumer insights delivered at speed gave the team the opportunity to select the most promising creative and optimize it based on consumer reactions, leading to higher creative effectiveness.

  • Validated to deliver high ROI

    A superior prediction of in market effectiveness enabled the team to invest with confidence, ensuring they’re making the best return on their Super Bowl media dollars.


Getting the most out of the event

How often do marketers get to reach 100 million viewers in a single stroke? It happens once a year during the Super Bowl in the US, when advertisers pay $7 million for a 30-second spot to reach a huge audience.

The big game offers an unparalleled opportunity to build awareness, make your brand top of mind and create buzz. But with this opportunity comes a lot of pressure to stand out to make the most of the investment!

PepsiCo is known for its great Super Bowl ads. But how does the company ensure its ads will stand out each year?


Learning and optimizing early

PepsiCo uses an iterative approach to development, getting consumer feedback on creative early on. This approach of learning and optimizing early has proven to significantly increase the creative impact and ROI of Pepsi’s advertising across the board. 

Typically, PepsiCo’s teams first develop several alternative animatics to bring their story to life in different ways. Then they research the animatics with consumers using the Zappi Amplify Ad System. Robust analytics such as second-by-second emotional response and detailed consumer feedback help the teams to identify which parts of the  creative are more powerful so they can dial them up, and which resonate less and might need cutting or changing. 

Let’s take a look at three examples of this approach in action.


“Can’t Touch This”

For Super Bowl 2020, Cheetos wanted to bring attention to its newest product offering, Cheetos Popcorn, and make a splash during the biggest advertising event of the year. 

Playing into the Cheetos dust craze, Pepsi partnered with M.C. Hammer to create a layer of absurdity where Cheetos lovers could use dusty fingers to avoid social obligations. They used the rapper's iconic “Can’t Touch This” chorus to illustrate the concept. 

The team developed four alternative animatic ads with different creative elements and vignettes to find the right balance of humor, absurdity and relevance to resonate and make the ad stand out. 


How research helped optimize

Research indicated that consumers easily understood and appreciated the distinctiveness of the idea and they loved the way the product truth of leaving orange dust on fingers was brought to life. The four ads came in the top third of all ads tested for their creative impact, ability to drive immediate sales, and their potential to drive longer term impact on the Cheetos brand. 

Through the second-by-second emoji analysis and open responses for all four ads, the team identified the opportunities for optimization. They were able to retain the most humorous and emotive creative elements from each of the four versions — like putting MC Hammer’s face on a baby — and bring them together into a captivating story arc. 

The final creative then struck the right balance of humor and cultural sensitivity, and produced happiness, love and laughter throughout. Read more about this ad in our full case study.


“Golden Memories”

For one of its 2022 spots, PepsiCo selected Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd to promote its Lay’s brand.

In the ad, the two actors are seen sitting together reminiscing while eating a bag of Lay’s potato chips. To develop the ad, the Lay's team created alternative animatics with different vignettes of the “Golden Memories” and researched a 30 second and 60 second version.


How research helped optimize it

The animatics had high potential to drive short and long term sales. They had the ability to stand out, were highly distinctive, and easily cued the Lay's brand. Yet there were clear opportunities to make the ad more engaging and faster-paced. Consumers indicated which jokes didn’t land well and where music might be needed. 

The team worked with the creative agency to dial up the fun and surprising elements, and make the story more emotive. While keeping the format and the role of the Lay’s brand across the memories, they brought in new, more entertaining stories. From the second-by-second emotional responses the team could see that memories featuring both actors together elicited more positive emotional responses than the individual ones, so they focused there.

With these changes in place, the team arrived at a highly entertaining final creative that elicited 20% more positive emotions than the animatic, without losing the strong brand recall and distinctiveness.


“Push It”

Promoting the flamin’ hot flavor of PepsiCo’s leading snacks, the company’s second 2022 ad featured a group of animals eating Doritos and Cheetos flamin’ hot chips and singing 'Push it' by Salt-N-Pepa. 

In this case, the team tested three animatics —  two versions featuring animals, each with a different ending, and one version with no animals. 


How research helped them optimize

Both versions with animals showed potential for high creative impact, landing in the top 20% of all ads in the database. The stronger of the two versions was used as the basis for the final creative. 

Research showed many strengths in the way this version communicated the flamin’ hot flavor — through the music, the animals and their funny reactions. But message clarity was an area to optimize. The second-by-second emotional reactions showed that the intensity of emotions was relatively low in the last five seconds, which was the part that communicated the key message “Flamin’ Hot unleashes your wild side.” It also showed that scenes with animals moving to the beats of the song were the most entertaining. 

The last few seconds of the commercial were reworked. Instead of a sloth slowly putting a flamin’ hot Doritos in his mouth, the final ad features a dancing meerkat followed by the key message, which is reinforced in the last seconds with the animals partying. This made the final creative even stronger — landing the key messages and ending on an emotional high. 

Final steps

Validating: invest with confidence

Once optimized, each of the final films was researched with consumers again, to see if the ads delivered the desired creative impact. 

In all three cases, the final films proved to have a highly positive impact on both short-term sales and long-term brand building, indicating a high return on investment. 

With these results, the teams could confidently invest behind each of the commercials.


Winning Super Bowl ads

With this approach, PepsiCo creates ads each year that are loved by the wide-ranging Super Bowl audience and that work hard for the brand, delivering strong creative effectiveness and return on investment. 

And the Cheeto’s “Can’t Touch This” ad was a big hit at Cannes — it was awarded a Cannes Lions Grand Prix in Creative Strategy in 2021 and a Silver Lion in Creative Effectiveness in 2022.

Thanks to the power of the Zappi platform, the PepsiCo team can use these learnings for the future — making every ad better than the last.

Since partnering with Zappi, we have seen our creative effectiveness improve by almost a third across all our advertising. This equates to PepsiCo gaining hundreds of millions in value from greater creative effectiveness this year!
Stephan GansChief Insights and Analytics Officer at PepsiCo let's talk about you!