3 Things Marketers Can Learn From Super Bowl Advertising
By Mike O'Brien | January 27, 2020
Marketing guru Seth Godin frequently talks about what he calls the TV-Industrial Complex: the glory time of television commercials when buying ads lead to more distribution for the product, allowing the company to sell more products, which in turn lead to the company making more profits, which then again allowed them to buy more ads. And so on. The TV-Industrial Complex is no more, but there’s an exception to the rule: Super Bowl advertising.
On any other day, we can’t simply interrupt people whenever we want anymore. Our time has become way too valuable; we now have to really interest people in buying stuff. The Super Bowl is different, as the biggest sporting and advertising event of the year.
Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 was the most-watched television broadcast in U.S. history, followed closely by the previous year’s Big Game. In fact, the Super Bowl represents 19 of the 20 most-watched television broadcasts in U.S. history, with the one outlier being the M*A*S*H series finale. With nearly 100 million people viewing your ad, Super Bowl advertising guarantees a lot of eyeballs…
…at a heavy, heavy price. In 1967, the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs played in the first Super Bowl, where a 30-second ad “only” cost $42,000. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $321,000 today, which doesn’t look like much on this Business Insider chart from 2017.
So what can marketers learn from the most expensive advertisements of the year? Let’s take a look at a few cases.
Change the Rules of the Game
Super Bowl advertising requires every company that wants to their message broadcasted to outbid their competitors. But most companies, especially the smaller ones, won’t be able to outbid their competitors in order to get their product promoted.
So instead of competing with your competitors, do what Volvo did: change the rules of the game. In 2015, Volvo promoted its XC60 with a social media effort that hijacked its competitors’ Super Bowl advertising. How? By giving away a car. The rules were simple: in order to participate you only had to tweet #VolvoContest every time you saw any car commercial during the game.
Quick math exercise: In 2015, Super Bowl advertising cost an average of $4 million, excluding the costs of actually producing the ad. But instead of spending $4 million, Volvo gave away five vehicles at the price of $37,125 each. Simply by being really creative, Volvo saved money and raised major awareness for the XC60, while at the same time hijacking the attention that their competitors received.
It you can’t outbid your competitors, outsmart them.
Know Your Target Group
One of my personal favorites is “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign from Old Spice. Of course, the ad is funny and it has a lot of impressive film effects. However, the most genius part is how well the campaign understood the target group they were after. The campaign is about Old Spice Body Wash, a product oriented to men, but the campaign itself targeted women.
Old Spice targeted women because research of the company had shown that women are the ones making the purchasing decisions of hygiene products, even for male household members. So instead of trying to show men how great Old Spice Body Wash is, the campaign targeted the women who would actually buy the product.
That’s why the advertisement featured actor Isaiah Mustafa, on boats and on horses and most of the time without a shirt. The result? Sales increased with 55% in the first three months after the campaign was launched.
Now you don’t need Isaiah Mustafa to grow your brand, but you do need to understand your target group.
Showing the Product, Without Focusing on the Product
Like I said in the beginning: the TV-Industrial Complex is no more. We can’t simply interrupt people and tell them how great the product is that we have to offer. Instead, we have to really interest them.
A fantastic example of that is 2011’s ‘Volkswagen The Force.’ The ad features a kid wandering around the house dressed as Star Wars’ Darth Vader. The kid continuously tries to use ‘The Force’ on everything around the house — a treadmill, the dog, the washing magazine — but nothing works. At the end of the day, his dad comes home and parks his Volkswagen Passat in the driveway. While he walks back into the house, his son tries to give his powers one last shot and attempts to start the car. His dad, watching the scene from the kitchen, uses his car keys to start the car and leaves little Darth Vader completely astonished — his powers worked.
The car is displayed during less than half of the one-minute ad. And only in the last five seconds the text is displayed: “The all-new 2012 Passat, coming soon.”
The ad was cute, funny, and it had great potential to go viral. And it did. Even before the Super Bowl had started, it had racked up 17 million views (64 million as of today). What’s more, it’s the most shared Super Bowl advertising to this day.
The lesson here? Stop trying to interrupt people with your message, but rather interest them in buying it.
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