In sports, it seems like there are always a million interesting stories to tell. For example, in the game yesterday, it is fascinating that the coaches for the two teams were brothers, and that the Ravens and the 49ers were the only two teams in the entire league who had never lost a Super Bowl that they had gone to.
What’s always more fascinating to me as a marketer, however, is how effective and ineffective the ads are. The Super Bowl is a special American event because it is very literally the only mass advertising we have left, after several decades of a Mad Men-like era came to an end with the fragmentation of television, movies, and just about every other type of media out there. For comparison, the Super Bowl draws nearly 100 million US viewers per year, while the most-watched TV show in America, American Idol, draws fewer than 20 million viewers per episode. So it’s exciting to see what big brands with big budgets can do when given a playground like the Super Bowl to siphon attention off from.
And I think there are lessons to be learned as well, especially about gaining attention online. Here are nine:
1. Repeated exposure is good
For as many commercials as there were, they all revolved around a few big brands, including Budweiser, Coke, and Doritos, to name a few. The Budweiser brand, not surprisingly, had the most ads between several of its beverages—5 total. Budweiser’s approach to gaining attention was sheer mass, which reminded me of how blogs are built—if you want a bigger audience or more traffic, a safe bet is to start posting more.
Only one of the Bud commercials was noteworthy, but it was the sheer number of them that left the brand buzzing in my brain yesterday night. The moral of the story: repeated exposure is good, even if the whole is greater than any one part alone.
2. Weird is memorable, but not empathic
I can’t say I understood the Bud Light commercials, and I don’t think it’s because I’m a chick, because Han Solo didn’t get it either. With the tagline “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work” … yeah, it didn’t work. Sorry, Zoe Saldana.
More disturbingly, the GoDaddy.com commercials featured supermodel Bar Rafaeli making out with Jesse Heiman, an actor that we’ve never noticed until now. The loud, wet, awkward close-up of their lips locking doesn’t make me want to register a domain anytime soon, but it does make me wonder if Heiman has a girlfriend—and look, he doesn’t, according to his Twitter. Prediction: this commercial will do wonders for Heiman’s career and love life if he capitalizes now, but nothing for the domain registrar.
The commercials I did like were the ones that elicited empathy: Audi: Prom, Budweiser: The Clydesdales – Brotherhood, and Dodge Ram: Keep Plowing. The moral of the story: make your audience feel a deep emotion that connects them to your brand, and tell stories that make sense.
3. Adding celebrity makes the message more memorable
The Super Bowl ads reminded me of the Emmy’s, almost; at the least, it was a who’s who of prime time television. Naya Rivera from Glee appeared in the M&M’s commercial, Amy Poehler from Parks and Recreation appeared in the Best Buy ad, and Tracy Morgan from 30 Rock represented Miofit. I found it fascinating that many of the celebrities were television actors, people the viewers were already used to seeing on television. Moral of the story: incorporate celebrity into your work, even if you are just commenting on them. Use them as examples for a point you are trying to illustrate.
4. Interaction is good
We are no longer trying to figure out how to incorporate social media into television; we’ve finally arrived. I noticed how well this was being done when I was watching The Voice last fall, but it’s really arrived and become a natural part of watching TV. Coke referenced YouTube videos and ran an interactive contest to decide who got to drink Coke (the flamenco dancers won), Speedstick asked viewers to tweet their most embarrassing moments with the hash tag #handleit, and Jimmy Fallon and Lincoln asked the audience to #steerthescript ahead of time. Moral of the story: use social media. Enough said.
5. Targeting a smaller audience is more effective than a mass approach
One of my favorite commercials came at the end. The Samsung commercial with Seth Rogen, Lebron James, and Paul Rudd was hilariously entertaining and the buzzwords were spot on with its tech geek audience.
Moral of the story: a little inside baseball is okay, even while targeting the masses. Getting specific can actually gain you more attention.
6. Conversion is a better measure than views
Did anyone else notice that CBS used a large portion of its Super Bowl ad space to promote its own shows? It seemed unusual to both Han Solo and I, to the point where he asked me, “do you think they couldn’t sell the space?”
Not in the slightest. Seeing as the ads went for $3.8MM each, it’s likely that CBS is hoping to get a boost in ratings for its staple shows, like Big Bang Theory and 2 Broke Girls. They also very purposefully chose Elementary for their lead-in, which was perfect because it’s still in its first season, it’s episodic (you don’t need to watch it in season order), and it is the most-watched new television show for the 2012/2013 season. There’s a good opportunity to convert viewers to new audience.
Another indicator of brands trying to convert: Iron Man’s 15 second spot, urging viewers to go online to watch their extended preview, and several other brands that published extended commercials online. Moral of the story: don’t just shoot for attention, have a strategy for capturing it.
7. Cross-promoting does not need disclosure
Am I the only one who questioned why the Budweiser Black Crown ad used the opening song for 2 Broke Girls in the background? Who questioned why Kaley Cuoco from the Big Bang Theory made some “Penny”-like faces in the Toyota Rav commercial? Did money exchange hands here?
On the internet, we spend a lot of time making sure that everyone knows which way money and favors are flowing, but it’s completely stupid. After all, CBS nixed the Sodastream ad that dissed Pepsi and Coke, all because they didn’t want to piss off advertisers. Who’s to say there isn’t more going on behind the scenes here? Moral of the story: Don’t be afraid to use your connections to gain attention. It’s how business works.
8. Ignore the haters, prove yourself
This is not about ads, it’s about the Pepsi half-time show that got a ton of pre-buzz due to Beyonce’s lip syncing at President Obama’s inaugural ball. Beyonce handled the controversy with class: she didn’t address the naysayers at all. Instead she just brought her A-game and breathed really heavily into the microphone between belted lyrics, proving that she didn’t need to lip-sync. And it was one of the best half-time shows I’ve seen in a long time.
What’s more, she changed the topic. Before Beyonce came on, I told Han Solo, “I bet she’s going to use this show to announce a Destiny’s Child reunion.” And surprise, Kelli Rowland and Michelle Williams showed up to promote the brand new music they have coming out in three days that everyone will be talking about for the next week. Moral of the story: the best way to combat negative attention is with positive press.
9. Monetize attention in other ways than charging for it
Psy’s Gangam Style pistachios commercial is riding a wave, especially since he was just featured on TechDirt for earning over $8MM in 2012, all without caring about copyright infringement.
Moral of the story: give your best stuff freely, and it will receive the attention it warrants.