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Super Bowl Branding Lessons


What does Super Bowl advertising and spam have in common? Both subscribe to the eyeball theory. In both cases, it’s about scale. In both cases, it’s about interruption. In both cases, it’s about hope.

“If we can just reach enough people, then enough people will react and we’ll get our money back”. Which as I say is hopeful, because more and more the real numbers seem to be suggesting that reach alone is a dead metric. Just because people have heard of you, just because you’ve had your 30 seconds of fame, does not automatically mean that will convert into significant amounts of sales. Particularly when your logo is thrown into the 10 second end-zone at the back of the ad to give the gag as much time as possible to run. And particularly if you’ve spent most of your year’s budget on this big splash, and there are little or no resources left to follow up.

The National Football League’s Super Bowl is the triumph of occasion, prestige and scale. Between the press releases and the hoopla, advertising at the Super Bowl simply means 110+ million people saw you. Or could have seen you, in between mouthfuls of chips and trips to the restroom.

There must be better ways to spend $4 million of your marketing budget. But very few more noticeable ways. And that’s the key. That’s what big brands will pay outrageous money for. That intensity of notice.

If the Super Bowl is indeed the triumph of audited reach over proven effectiveness, there’s an important lesson for anyone involved in procuring sponsorship or trying to secure sales. Bragging rights. The real lesson of the Super Bowl is not whether the ads are worth it, or what being there does for your reputation. The lesson of America’s biggest football game is that for a lot of advertisers the ability to be able to say “we were there” still outweighs the specifics of “this is what we achieved from being there”. And for companies that have been at the Super Bowl before, particularly those that have been there a long time, presence is virtually an expectation.

The Super Bowl is the private jet of advertising, when everyone else is flying coach. And that idea of being part of the big leagues is hugely appealing.

But even if you weren’t between the breaks on Super Bowl Sunday, there are still lessons. Knowing what the Super Bowl tells you about people’s wish to be involved in something that others are awed by, how will you rewrite the proposal you’re writing right now? How are you going to apply the lessons from Sunday? How will you make people ache so much to be part of what you’re doing that the money you’re asking for is totally worth it?

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Pola on January 30th, 2014 said

It’s not just about the sheer volume of viewers. It’s about the number of viewers who are already emotional engaged with the idea of being entertained, of being wowed, of being conned into an absurd punch line. Spam achieves a similar, albeit contrary, effect: their viewers are already emotional disengaged and automatically empty their spam folders without peaking inside. Companies that don’t invest in a captivating story for their Super Bowl ads will have sunk millions into the most ineffective spray-and-pray campaigns, even by spam standards.

Mark Disomma
Twitter: markdisomma
on January 31st, 2014 said

Good point Pola. Thanks.

Twitter: Diplomat_Serge
on January 31st, 2014 said

Great point again!

It even seems ridiculous when some companies are chasing only numbers. They waste money and get no ROI. I think it’s irresponsible.

Comprehensive lessons, thanks!

Hilton Barbour
Twitter: ZimHilton
on February 01st, 2014 said

Mark – apologies but I’m recycling commentary I left on another Super Bowl write-up.

I’m certainly relieved we’ve moved beyond launching hamsters from cannons in SuperBowl commercials. While $4MM for :30 isn’t a huge amount against the bottom-line of Chev, Anhauser, Hyundai et al, it does have an opportunity cost surely?
Are there other brand issues that might be better solved by the infusion of that $4MM? Could it be better utilized to streamline ordering online? A better customer service because of an additional $4MM in employee training? I love the SuperBowl ad fest but it merely satisfies COMMUNICATIONS goals. I just wish some companies invested their money in doing versus talking. Otherwise its just very expensive lipstick on the pig.

Mark Disomma
Twitter: markdisomma
on February 01st, 2014 said

Hi Hilton – Agree, and it may be less attractive lipstick than brand managers might like to think. Take a look at this article from Brad Tuttle over at Time on why companies should be examining the real value for money here. Sobering stuff: http://business.time.com/2014/01/30/most-people-wont-watch-super-bowl-ads-before-the-game/

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