You Don’t Have to Spend Big Bucks for Your Brand to Benefit From the Big Game’s Commercials
Without a doubt, Super Bowl commercials have become the most-hyped, most-viewed, most-discussed advertisements in the history of marketing. Featuring the largest TV audience by far every year for decades (over 115 million U.S. and 56 million global viewers in 2023), the Big Game is likely the last “TV program” left where people don’t use commercials as an excuse to use the bathroom, grab a snack, or switch channels. In fact, most people are glued to the ads, with some tuning in specifically for them, knowing that they’re supposed to be the best ads the marketing world has to offer and therefore the most entertaining! This is why it now costs a fortune for brands to run their own such commercials.
In 1967, during the first Super Bowl, it cost a company $42,000 (around $367,000 today) for one 30-second TV commercial. In 2023, that same half-minute spot cost an average of seven million dollars. That’s a testament not only to the NFL’s meteoric rise in popularity but also to the incredible value that brands have increasingly placed on the exposure.
Though it’s worth it for large brands that can afford to get in the game, allowing them to shape perception and get their message out on a massive scale, it’s an astronomical price tag that leaves the vast majority of brands sitting on the sidelines. However, because some of the top agencies in the world work on them using both new and time-tested tactics, there are many valuable lessons that businesses, both big and small, can learn from Super Bowl commercials.
By studying the successful ones — those that everyone buzzes about (in a good way) at the water cooler on Monday — you and your brand can emulate their approach in your own marketing strategy and incorporate it into more price-friendly channels, from your digital ads and social media to mailers and broadcast commercials.
You can learn a lot from the duds too, at least what not to do. Even with such a big investment, some brands still get it horribly wrong. Be it a weak effort that falls flat, a weird one that confuses, or a controversial one that offends, there are always Super Bowl commercials that leave viewers scratching their heads. For example, after this 1999 culturally tone-deaf Just for Feet commercial, both the brand and the agency sued each other.
Yes, good or bad, every Super Bowl commercial has something to teach us.
Here are 4 of the big lessons you can take away from the Big Game’s ads and apply when stepping up your own marketing:
1. Tell Compelling Stories
From movies and tv shows to books and true-crime podcasts, everyone loves a great story, be it highly entertaining, informative, or thought-provoking. It’s what separates the successful ones from the easily forgettable ones. The same goes for Super Bowl ads and your own marketing.
From the groundbreaking Apple commercial harkening back to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 to the heartwarming The Farmer’s Dog 2023 “Forever” spot chronicling the lifelong relationship between a dog and its owner, the game’s commercials are famous for their often-cinematic storytelling through powerful scripts, stunning visuals, and even the perfect song choice.
Your business has its own unique story based on a number of factors, including its purpose, values, and history. It’s one you have to tell and tell well if you’re going to see real results, and you don’t need millions to do it. Your marketing campaigns should be good at telling it in ways that connect to your audience’s experience and persuade potential customers that you understand their wants and needs.
- You wouldn’t think 30 seconds is long enough to tell a compelling story, but actually, even just one image can. For example, Airbnb is great at storytelling one dynamic image at a time. You can tell your stories in a variety of ways using images, graphics, video, and copy, and it should be a priority for your website, emails, print mailers, social media, and every other channel in your marketing strategy.
2. Appeal to Emotion
Essential to telling a great story is to get the listener to become emotionally invested. Evoking positive emotions such as joy, nostalgia, empathy, or awe, and getting viewers to connect with characters has been a staple in the best of stories and commercials. Some research even suggests that people are much more likely to remember ads that evoke strong emotion.
Heck, if you don’t fight back a tear or two watching The Farmer’s Dog spot or this Dove commercial, you might want to check your pulse. And you can’t go one commercial game break without one brand trying to get the audience to laugh — truly the best medicine in some company’s marketing cabinets. (My personal favorites are those involving monkeys which many marketing experts, including myself, see as ratings gold! Haha.)
Even negative emotions, such as sadness, fear, and anger, can be tapped into to some effect (see most political ads), but probably not the best thing to do during the Big Game. Take this incredibly depressing 2015 Nationwide commercial about the unrealized life of a dead child, a dark concept most weren’t expecting during what’s supposed to be a festive event.
Appealing to emotion correctly is your key to great storytelling. This takes a keen understanding of exactly who your target audience is and what they respond to best. Make’em smile, cry, think, wonder, etc. Just make sure you stay on target and…
3. Stay On-Brand
In 2016, Mountain Dew ran arguably the strangest ad in the game’s history, and that’s saying a lot, with PuppyMonkeyBaby, which featured a freakish amalgamation of, you guessed it, a puppy, monkey, and baby saying its name over and over. You may ask yourself: How could that possibly work? Well, according to iSpot.tv at the time, it was the #1-rated spot of the night, generating 2.2 million online views at the time!
The team at Mountain Dew knows its younger and edgier audience extremely well, and its whacky marketing is tailored to them. However, most companies wouldn’t get away with that, even during the Big Game. While oddity is attention-getting, most can’t afford to take such a risk, especially with that much money, not to mention their identity, on the line.
Anheuser-Busch’s brand is largely built around its tradition, and their campaigns reflect that, even when adopting different tones at times, sometimes serious, sometimes lighthearted. Debuting in Super Bowl XX (1986) the Budweiser Clydesdales concept has since grown into one of the most recognizable ad campaigns on U.S. television and has made an appearance in a majority of Super Bowls since.
Every company has a unique brand identity — all the colors, logos, taglines, content, etc. that are meant to capture the essence of a brand so that people can easily recognize it and make the connection. Maintaining that brand identity involves many facets but is centered around consistency and giving the audience what they come to expect from you. To build that all-important relationship with your audience, stick to your established branding as the blueprint for all your marketing strategies. That doesn’t mean you can’t change the tone slightly, depending on the channel or situation, but you do have to stick to the voice. If you don’t know exactly what your brand identity is or if it’s strong enough, you may want to give M:7 Agency a ring pronto.
4. Take an Omni-Channel Approach
It’s doubtful that you’ve seen a Super Bowl commercial, especially recently, that hasn’t been supported by multiple channels, be it website teaser videos, social media posts, radio ads, apps, games, contests, in-store signage, product packaging, you name it. This is what’s called omni-channel marketing — the seamless integration of online and offline touchpoints to present a consistent message across all relevant channels. Super Bowl advertisers use it to get the most out of their huge investment and amplify the effects of their spot.
Omni-channel marketing is basically a roadmap to creating a unified, optimal customer experience and expanding your messaging reach exponentially. While this type of marketing existed long before the Internet, tying broadcast, mail, in-store signage, billboards, and other types of traditional advertising together, the digital landscape has opened up a whole new world, making the approach a practical must when crafting your own marketing campaigns. And, thanks in large part to the rise of smartphones and so much being done online nowadays, you don’t have to have a big brand budget to create an omni-channel strategy.
Through owned media (e.g. your own website and social media), earned media (e.g. news articles and social media mentions), and less expensive forms of paid media (e.g. digital ads, mailers, and radio ads), there are a number of channels to choose from in order to create a strong yet cost-effective omni-channel marketing strategy that generates buzz and interest in your product or service. Keep in mind that your messaging should all be aligned across those channels and released strategically during your campaign in order to maximize exposure and reach.
Back to PuppyMonkeyBaby — its popularity was also bolstered by 300,000 social media interactions in the days after airing. The lesson there is to take advantage of social media and other inexpensive yet powerful channels as much as you can.
These are four of the biggest lessons you can learn from the Big Game’s ads to help you fine-tune your own marketing strategies. When you watch, pay extra attention to the stories brands are trying to tell, the emotions they’re trying to evoke, how they stay on brand, and how they incorporate other channels into the mix.
At M:7 Agency, we haven’t had the pleasure of producing a Super Bowl ad (yet), but we are experts at emotional storytelling, standout branding, and omni-channel marketing which means you can count on us if and when you’d like help taking your business to the next level and get the results you’ve been after. Start a conversation with us today!