Dove’s Super Bowl 2024 ad landing the hard knocks and a hard truth

Casey Kudrenko
By Casey Kudrenko | 15 February 2024
Dove at the Super Bowl 2024.

Casey Kudrenko, Senior Insight Specialist, Neuro-Insight

Dove’s Super Bowl ad LVIII Ad aptly titled “Hard Knocks”, does just that. The company, having tackled self-esteem issues across decades of campaigns, uses this ad to inform us that it's not ‘hard knocks’ that lead girls out of sports; it’s low body confidence. Via second-by-second brain analysis, Neuro-Insight showcases how and why the subconscious is engrossed from start to finish on this powerfully delivered spot.

How it Lands: The Delivery and The Impact

Viewers’ subconscious is immediately triggered into high sustained encoding (memory encoding = highly correlated with ad effectiveness) as they witness, handy-cam style, girls of all ages and races play a variety of sports. Scene after scene, each young athlete succumbs to her ‘hard knock’ as she misses a landing, slips or falls. The brain remains highly receptive (>.70) as the visual storytelling is perfectly supplemented by the beats of the Broadway classic “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” from Annie.

Then comes the gear change; soundtrack disappears, the “It’s the hard knocks life” lyrics is precisely delivered over Dove’s initiating message; “The knocks don’t stop girls playing sports low body confidence does”. The brain takes a modest breather here, from being entertained to now prepare for what it’s about to be told and shown by Dove.

The tight-shot of the vulnerable girl studying herself in the mirror, sees the emotional regions of the brain soar as viewers connect with the gravity of this scene. Void of the previous energy and ebullience in soundtrack, viewers are left with impactful silence and vicarious discomfort. The subconscious is heavily captivated (high sustained memory encoding), rendering it highly receptive to Dove’s iconography and next text super; “45% of girls quit sports by age 14”.

Finally as Dove delivers; “Together we can keep them in the game” along with the call-to-action, effective peaks in memory encoding coincide, signifying high message cut-through. The story arch and relief by way of solution is complete. See key scene analysis below;

Dove analysis Graphic supplied feb 2024

Dove hit’s hard, so what’s got a grip on the subconscious? The many layers of Congruency.

Starting with the content itself. Whilst acknowledging the power of the subject matter and simplicity of message delivery, we must look at how all the pieces come together to allow viewers to receive the ad with such high sustained impact.

The highly recognizable opening soundtrack, drawing upon previously consolidated memories and associations of resilience, youthful spirit and hope, is highly congruent with the young girls’ innocence and determination as they face their knocks. Thanks to the shot style and pace, the brain is observing the talent and story at a distance, it is being, all the while made easy to do so as the brain enjoys synergy and rhythm. Ogilvy have crafted the perfectly timed visual and audio, to guide the subconscious through the storytelling, making it easy for the viewers to stay engaged.

We also find congruency within the gear-change, that is – Dove’s role. An advertiser who has continuously delivered on self-esteem and body confidence, in their classic navy text on white, with golden Dove logo frame for the big hitting messages. Again, a previously stored memory and manor in which viewers expect to be informed by Dove.

Lastly, the severity of hard hitting truth is congruent with raw and expressive simplicity of the locker-room shot. The tighter frame, at great contrast to the opening care-free 15 seconds, delivers us a closeness, and ability to process nuanced social cues to experience empathy. This can often be a hit-or-miss amongst creative, as discomfort can trigger the brain to switch-off. However, the simplicity of the elements allowing the brain to connect, the harmony with the emotional message leads to the end-to-end stickiness and coherence.

In short, Dove have masterfully designed and navigated the many layers of congruency. From a brand and their role, to their consistency of style and approach. To evoking memories and associations via sound and timing, to engrossing viewers emotionally with the tightness and simplicity of shot. The synergy allows for the subconscious to receive such a powerful and emotional message, with such a hard knock.


Time Series: Assessing The Second-by-Second Impact

The  Memory Encoding times series video for the viewers’ response to Dove’s “Hard Knocks”.  Memory Encoding, based on it’s strong and highly researched link to consumer behaviour is the strongest metric when it comes to ad effectiveness. The graph used in this article, displays memory composite, a combination of both the hemispheres of the brain. The red trace reflects memory encoding from the left hemisphere, which is primarily responsible for the encoding of the detail in experiences, such as text or micro features.  In contrast, the right hemisphere which is reflected by the blue line is concerned with the storing of global features, such as soundtracks, narrative connection, as well as the emotional underpinnings of a particular experience. 

How we did it

Neuro-Insight measured brain activity to see how over 100 typical viewers respond to ads, within the Super Bowl LVIII. Data was collected February 11th and 12th in New York City. The specific technology used by Neuro-Insight is founded in work originally developed for academic and neuroscience research (read more: ), and has been used to analyse the effectiveness of creative and media for over 15years. The technology simultaneously record viewer’s second-by-second changes in; approach (like)/withdraw (dislike), emotional intensity, engagement and memory whilst watching advertisements and/or consuming media. The measure Neuro-Insight predominantly focuses on is Long-term Memory Encoding, based on it’s strong and highly researched link to consumer behaviour. This measure reveals, second by second, what the brain is storing (or encoding) into conscious and subconscious long-term memory. Neuro-Insight’s Memory Encoding graph reveals how elements of the ad are stored; the higher the graph, the more strongly that moment in the ad is stored in memory and the more likely it will influence consumer behaviour.



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