Zonnia Knight|Feb 1, 2017

We’re about to enjoy our favorite sport: Super Bowl Commercials!

Every year, brands pull out all the stops to get their message across to more than 100+ million TV viewers, as well as many more who watch the ads online and talk about them for weeks.

For this reason (as well as the hefty cost for getting the coveted ad slot), a Super Bowl ad isn’t just another ad. There’s a lot more at stake for a few seconds of precious airtime, so brands need to make ads that are memorable and buzzworthy for years to come.

The best Super Bowl ads have imparted many lessons in advertising best practices, most of which can be applied to our own marketing work.

Here are three spots from last year and what we can learn from them:

Lesson#1: Data is king


In a very meta fashion, Adobe gave a short story about a “gambler” – really, the CMO of a cream cheese company – who threw down $4MM for their Super Bowl Ad that flopped. The objective for Adobe was not to discourage companies from investing in the Super Bowl, but to show the critical importance of data to a brand’s marketing strategy.

The takeaway here is best summed up by Adobe’s VP of Experience Marketing Alex Amado, who explained the message further to AdWeek: “If you aren’t using data and insights to drive your marketing, it’s just a gamble. This ad is saying that any marketing investment that isn’t informed by data could be an unnecessary gamble with your company’s money.”

Lesson #2: Get your marketing channels aligned

During Super Bowl 50, Taco Bell used their ad slot to reveal their latest product. While the spot is chock-full of observational humor (another winning tactic), the power of this ad is what you don’t see on the screen, and what Taco Bell did alongside it.

In the lead-up to the Super Bowl, Taco Bell set about building buzz around their latest creation with a series of teasers and publicity stunts that dropped hints as to the nature of the new product. In the first week of February 2016, they invited customers to pre-order the still secret new menu item and 67,000 customers took them up on the offer and talked about it.

By the time the product was officially unveiled, #TacoBell and #Quesalupa were trending on Instagram while the brand’s Snapchat had seen around 2.6 million views.

But Taco Bell didn’t stop there.

To accompany the build-up to and final reveal of the Quesalupa, Taco Bell devised a paid search campaign that targeted both broad phrases (like Super Bowl) alongside branded keywords and phrases used in the Super Bowl ad itself (such as Bigger Than). This clever cross-channel marketing campaign enabled the brand to exploit the Super Bowl buzz to the max by dominating the search results for related terms before, during and after the event.

Add extra weight to your campaigns: Don’t run single-channel digital marketing campaigns and find ways to integrate various channels together.

Lesson #3: Spread a message, not just your message


Last year, Colgate entered the arena with their first ever Super Bowl ad: 30 seconds of airtime estimated to have cost Colgate around $5 million – and they didn’t promote their products. There was no mention of their products until the very end, in fact. Instead they promoted the importance of conserving water.

Why then, with such a hefty fee on the table, did Colgate choose to allocate those precious few seconds to promoting not their brand, but a message encouraging us to save water?

In short: because the ad did promote their brand. Their Super Bowl ad promoted them in a very indirect way.

The ad wasn’t designed to make consumers head out to buy Colgate toothpaste on the promise of fresher breath or a whiter, brighter smile. The ad serves instead to build brand loyalty by showing its human side and by painting Colgate as a brand that cares – a trait that’s having a greater impact than ever on how consumers spend their money.

Sometimes the most effective form of marketing is marketing that doesn’t directly promote yourself, but that helps promote a bigger, more significant cause. If you’re stuck for ways to market yourself directly, look at how you can help enhance your brand’s image by helping someone or something else instead.

In Summary

It’ll be interesting to see what brands do with their precious airtime, especially after recent events. Whichever way a brand chooses to message, it will have make a splash big enough to remember in this sea of sameness.


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