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That Super Bowl ad you loved wasn't even real

Man watching TV with empty screen
Glow Images | Getty Images

Remember that great Gatorade ad you liked during the Super Bowl? Or the one from Nike? And how about those great spots from Apple and Radio Shack—how awesome were those?

Turns out, they were well-loved by the public. Except they didn't actually exist.

According to exclusive data provided to CNBC by copypop.com, a new advertising-testing service, viewers surveyed from Sunday night's Super Bowl claimed to have seen—and liked—ads that never actually aired.

When prompted with a list of major companies who aired ads on Sunday—mixed in with a list of companies that did not, the results were quite mixed.

People have bad memories

First off, people had a hard time even remembering the ads that actually aired. When asked to name as many ads as possible, they could only come up with an average of 4.7, which is less than 10 percent of the total inventory.

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When prompted from a list, the average percentage of people remembering any one ad was only 45 percent. That's less than half—even when presented with a list of choices!

And here's where it starts to get strange: When given a list of ads that didn't run, mixed in with the real ads, a whopping 19 percent of people said, yes, they remembered watching those ads. Given that 45 percent of people could even remember the real ads, 19 percent is almost half that number. Almost half!

That's 1 in 5 people said they watched an ad that never actually aired. Think companies like Dr. Pepper, Miller, Twix, Samsung, Burger King, Axe and Audi. You might think they had Super Bowl ads, but they didn't.

People like phantom ads better

When asking people how much they liked the ads they saw, this is where it gets weird: The phantom ads scored higher than the real ones. Fifty percent of the real ads were "liked a lot" by people, but 58 percent of the phantom ads were "liked a lot," too.

So what is going on here? Dan Goldstein, chief strategy officer at DB5 Research, said, "There is a lot of misattribution out there," where people saw something elsewhere but thought it came from the Super Bowl. But, more importantly, the idea of being "liked" is what can carry you further than usual. "It's not that phantom ads are more likable, it's that likable ads are more likely to become phantom ads," said Goldstein.

The best ads get remembered for a long time, and they are so sticky that people will wrongly associate the time when it ran, and the brand who aired it.

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DB5's past research has shown that the companies with the best ability to get the audience to remember have consistently bought in the Super Bowl every single year. Think Budweiser. For the brewer, the investment pays off, rather than the brands that buy in some but not all years.

"We know that Super Bowl advertisers bring their A-game to the event," said Goldstein. "Their ads are more liked and more persuasive than everyday ads. Unfortunately memories of ads are short and they compete with other advertising memories made elsewhere."

It also means that a lot of those other surveys floating around on Monday will claim they have the right data about what the best ads were, but we know now that people can't be trusted with their memories.