Derek Rucker is the Sandy & Morton Goldman Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies in Marketing at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

In a Super Bowl ad lineup of dancing cowboys, space aliens, sleek cars, special effects and a panoply of celebrity faces, quiet won the day with Google’s poignant “Loretta” ad.

The emotionally powerful ad features a man who uses Google Assistant to reminisce about his late wife, Loretta, by searching for photos, places visited, a favorite movie and more so as not to forget. It’s inspired by a true story — the grandfather of a Google employee.

Eschewing the comedic entertainment vibe that ran through most of the ads that aired during Super Bowl LIV, Google went for the heartstrings — and it worked. By leveraging strong storytelling and images that clearly came from a family album, the ad forged a stronger connection with consumers who already know what Google does.

The result was remarkable consistency with Google’s brand — without having to invest in the flashy execution or heart-thumping celebration of so many of the other Super Bowl spots. And, it served as a subtle plug for Google Assistant, an artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant that provides hands-free help.

Google’s Loretta ad scored high among a panel of 65 MBA students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Using a strategic framework to evaluate ads on their effectiveness in strategic brand-building, the ad ranked well for branding and messaging.

Google’s choice of airing the Loretta ad was not without its risks, given that it centered on a sad story of a widower recalling his late wife. Such powerful feelings can upset or even offend consumers. Google managed to navigate that emotional territory, with a piano soundtrack that bordered on somber, while still making people feel good — not bad.

The ad went deep into a sad topic, but it steered clear of mourning — at the end, Google Assistant recalls Loretta’s advice: “Don’t miss me too much, and get out of the dang house.” But it’s the human who gets the last word. The ad closes with the man’s voice: “Remember, I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

The Loretta ad showcased Google’s ability to ladder up to an emotional place with consumers. It’s been here before — with the “Parisian Love” ad that aired during the Super Bowl 10 years ago. That ad showed old-school search with typed words, as a young man studies abroad in Paris, tries to impress a young French woman, and googles everything from truffles to Truffaut to churches in Paris, and finally seeks advice on building a baby crib.

From Parisian love to Loretta, Google’s two ads, albeit with unconnected storylines, cover the lifespan of a relationship. That humanness, conveyed with simplicity, made the Google ad the one people were talking about after the game was over.


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