$4 million (£2.4m) per 30 seconds – That’s the cost of airing a television ad during this Sunday’s Super Bowl game. So why is it this time of year that brands go all out on budget? And what can we learn about how they maximise engagement through video?

Last year, an average 108 million people tuned in to the Super Bowl game. That’s nearly 1/3 of the US population with their eyes on the screen. This year is expected to have an even higher viewing, with social media playing a big part of the before and after engagement process.

While advertisers can only hope that their ads produce sales they cannot predict this completely. But, what they can do is plant their brand personality into the minds of an audience through storytelling.

These, almost mini-movie type commercials, are psychologically-thought out pieces of art that involve injecting a series of algorithms that work together to produce the perfect ad.

And, the fact is, it works. The Super Bowl has brought us some of the most iconic ads of all time. Remember this Apple ad?

The ad only aired one time during the Super Bowl in 1984 yet, that’s the moment that changed everything for Steve Jobs and Apple.

What factors make this the most loved Super Bowl ad of all time?

Apple built up the ‘David Vs Goliath’ momentum, and who doesn’t love an underdog? The ad created many Apple Fangirls and Fanboys who wanted to see Apple win this battle, so to speak. So they played it with them. Of course, Apple had to then share a spectacular product to back up their commercial with.

With nearly 59 million views on You Tube, what factors make Volkswagen’s The Force the most viral Super Bowl ad of all time?

This video has 3 elements that work for three types of audience: firstly, it’s picked up on a huge pop culture theme allowing the story to resonate with Star Wars fans, young and old. Secondly, it’s proving nostalgic moments for adult viewers whilst highlighting the bond between parents and children and thirdly, it’s providing inspiration for children – possible future customers?

Whilst many brands buy airtime on the day, some are clever enough to create their commercial in the time leading up to the Superbowl. With over 13 million views in less than 3 weeks, this Duracell ad will leave you with chills. Why? Simply put, the brand uses emotional storytelling at its core.

What factors make this a great ad?

By selecting NFL player Derrick Coleman (deaf from a young age), they have the hero of the story at the core.  Duracell have given the ad a great script with quotes that stay with you long after you have watched the video. Take this quote for example, “They told me it was over, but I’ve been deaf since I was 3 so I didn’t listen, and now I’m here, with a lot of fans at the NFL cheering me on and I can hear them all”, that’s emotional storytelling with a punch. Soon after they give us the words – TRUST THE POWER WITHIN and they have won over an audience that wants to comment, tell their story, find out who Derrick Coleman is, share the ad and watch more of Duracell’s videos. What’s most likely to happen now? On Sunday, when millions of people watch the game and Derrick Coleman comes on screen, people will remember his story and will most likely remember who told that story.

The other reason the video works is because the message is clear and it ties in with the message of their product, ‘the power within’, ‘longevity’, ‘staying the course’, are all phrases and words the brand wants you to identify them with than just ‘batteries’. Well played, Duracell.

This year, some brands have taken the suspense angle, where they give the audience a snippet of what’s to come this Sunday.

M&M’s have gone down a slightly darker route than usual and created a teaser which features their character Yellow being kidnapped with the message “Find out what happens to Yellow, 02/02/14”.

Why it works:

For people who have followed M&M’s previous advertisements (offline and online), you will know this is a funny, lovable character and it’s this personality that makes people fond of it. Even if it is just a character, people still want to know what has happened to Yellow and that’s the hook. The character has been in front of people for so long. This is why M&M’s can pull this off rather than a brand that shows a character for the first time being kidnapped. You would not get the same reaction.

Honda used a similar technique in 2012 when they created this ad for Super Bowl air time:

Why it works:

The ad references a major film plot and anyone who grew up in the 80’s will know the movie is a cult classic. Honda has cleverly selected Matthew Broderick, who played the character in the movie, again bringing up nostalgic moments for the audience. Pop culture and celebrity references are widely used in Super Bowl ads because of the popularity of the subject for the audience. Identification of a person or topic within a story instantly gets more engagement than ones with ‘regular’ characters, the same as the M&M’s ad.  Another reason the ad works is because it hints connotations of making the most of life and has some motivating undertones to it which tugs to people’s emotional sides.

While some brands show off their sensitive side, some go off the radar altogether by adding a pinch of controversy to their story. SodaStream may have gone down the controversial route this year but you tell people that an ad has been banned and they will do anything to go and find it!

What most of these videos have in common is the right balance of emotionally-charged story telling with the mix of pop culture referencing, nostalgia, humour, triumph and anticipation. Making the audience feel heightened emotion and leaving them contently happy – Could this be the perfect algorithm of a successful ad?