Super Bowl Ads. What should win but won’t

Super Bowl 2014

Super Bowl advertising mania is setting in.  Somehow the narrative about the advertising seems as important as the game itself. There is no doubt, marketers will pull out all the stops this year and already have. The stakes seem to rise with each Super Bowl. And this year it is no different snow or no snow.

In fact, from putting the ads online weeks before the game and plastering hashtags everywhere, to creating teaser ads to promote the actual ads and rushing to find the most shocking celebrities to sign, the Super Bowl advertising mania is at its most flamboyant. But not everyone can or will win the day. For me advertisers that do the following are much more likely to have success with their gigantic spends.

  1. Marketing to the Network not the Individual: It’s odd to say this in 2014 but most advertisers still haven’t cracked the true potential of marketing to the network versus the individual. The Super Bowl is one of the most social events, and Super Bowl parties define the day. However, most Super Bowl advertising experiences are created for the lone user in mind – a person sitting alone at home in front of a television with a mobile phone in his hand. And what’s worse is that the digital environment is treated only as an echo chamber and an extension of what happens on television.Rather I’ll be looking for advertising experiences that are designed for the network and not just the individual. If you assume that your viewer is in all likelihood at a Super Bowl party, how would you create the communication that triggers or leads to a deeper, shared experience with him and his friends? How would you design the advertising to drive physical and virtual world conversations? (Hint – putting a hash-tag at the end of a spot is not enough). Or how would you design a Super Bowl brand experience that is fundamentally participatory that gets more interesting the more people that participate in it? Or for that matter, how would you design a Super Bowl experience that’s fundamentally different if you support the winning team or the losing team (different experiences for different tribes)? An advertiser that approaches the Super Bowl with thoughts like those in mind, will standout in my opinion.
  2. Harnessing Viewer Real-Time Feedback loops: There is no question in my mind that real-time marketing took a few steps back at last year’s Super Bowl. The concept got trivialized, over-simplified and reduced to a raw tactic. And in all likelihood with war rooms galore and agency hours waiting to be burnt, that’ll happen again this year. I suspect though, that as with the Grammys last week, it will be with limited success. However, more important than trying culture-jacking or quick-witted copy writing, is tapping into what your brand loyalists are feeling and creating a uniquely shared experience with them that doesn’t compromise your brand.Brands that have real-time feedback loops corresponding to what their loyalists are doing (versus what’s happening on the field alone or with the electricity supply) will win. You’ve got to make those loops work in your favor, but you need to know them to take advantage of them. Of the approximately 30 million tweets expected during this game, how many of them will be from your brand loyalists? Can you guess? Can you also analyze what just your loyalists are thinking, feeling and saying to create communications in real-time against that? If you’re able to do that, I’ll be impressed. I don’t believe any brand truly and deeply focused on its loyalists last year. We all treated every viewer the same way and engaged with them online as if they all shared the same loyalties to our brands.
  3. Responding to the Human Condition. If there’s one thing that’s changed significantly in the last few years is the return to reality for advertising. Today, good advertising reflects, projects, represents, identifies with and responds to the human condition. It doesn’t use fancy words, made up jargon, invented settings or cheap tricks to grab your attention and distract you from what you’re really trying to do. Instead, it tries to add to that experience, complement it or contextualize it in meaningful and natural ways.The brands that connect with their consumers tapping into the language of culture, with real symbols, rituals, heroes and icons will do better than those that pay celebrities for gratuitous appearances or dangle babies in front of viewers to grab their attention. It is those brands that also have simple, authentic narratives that they have permission to express will do best over the longer term.The Samsung ad last year with Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd that played upon the culture of advertising itself in a very meta way fit this bill. Given that Samsung had spent the better part of the previous year mocking Apple and its advertising, for it do the same but with Super Bowl advertising in general seemed very normal.
  4. Using the Super Bowl air-time for what it is – a perfect trailer for a deeper, more longitudinal and honest narrative preferably one anchored in digital. That is the future of television in my opinion after all. One of my favorite ads from last year’s Super bowl was the Dodge Ram “God made a farmer” spot which used radio legend, Paul Harvey’s voice from a 1978 speech he gave to Future Farmers of America. It stirred pride and passion in the agriculture community and kicked off the Dodge Ram Year of the Farmer Campaign to raise money for the Future Farmers of America organization. An initiative that did indeed last the entire year. It’s not surprising that the ad got 16 million views on YouTube and over 55,000 thumbs ups. You can’t buy that kind of attention.Marketers that spend many months and many millions of dollars creating the perfect television spot to have their :30 or :60 seconds of fame on the Super Bowl and get their next promotion on the back of the buzz created are fundamentally missing the point. We are truly in an era of authenticity where brands should create fewer ads, put more meaning and depth into the ones that they do create and anchor them deeply into a greater sense of purpose and an ongoing narrative for the brand. I hope more brands go this route in 2014 and use the Super Bowl as a staging ground for strategies of that kind.
  5. Focusing on brand building, customers and the business. It’s a tragedy but if you follow the story of Super Bowl advertising as closely as I have, you’ll notice that too much about Super Bowl advertising is driven by vanity. It’s apparently the pinnacle of marketing for too many of us – to be able to work on a Super Bowl marketing initiative that wins the traditional USA Today ad meter or one of the many online conversation buzz meters (fortunately, each year more buzz meters crop up making me believe that soon there will be one for every ad in the Super Bowl soon!). Bizarrely, the role of the brand, the effect on the brand’s customers and the corresponding business results don’t seem to matter for such an expensive marketing initiative.On this particular point, we all have blood on our hands. Whether you’re a marketer, an agency, a journalist, a news anchor or a social media pundit, you’re complicit in furthering the notion that marketing during the Super Bowl is not about building a brand or a business and instead is about winning some ad meter or the other that may do nothing for you. The brands that fight the temptation to succumb to that pressure and focus on the business rationale for why they’re advertising (and with the right corresponding metrics in place), will be the ones that win over the long term. Now, this doesn’t mean that they can’t or shouldn’t try to grab attention but grabbing attention is the means not the end.

Super Bowl Sunday is going to be a magnificent cultural event as it always is. And for the marketing community it’ll be just as exciting, thought provoking and controversial too. That’s the nature of the event. However, for a brand to truly benefit from its Super Bowl investment is going to take doing something other than what it always has. That’s my hunch at least. And that’s what I’ll be looking for.

  • Ian Barrett

    Great Stuffz