Super Bowl Commercials: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
After the Super Bowl, much time and effort – in the form of water cooler talk and commentaries by experts on television and professors in classrooms – is directed towards dissecting and understanding the good, bad and ugly in the ads that ran during this annual advertising extravaganza. This year, as always, brands spanning from Coca Cola and Pepsi to Budweiser and GoDaddy, along with an assortment of car brands (including Kia, Chrysler, and Audi) paraded their wares, although some more effectively than others.
Most advertising is aimed at advancing consumers down the purchase funnel. Objectives thus typically include:
- Generating awareness among your target audience (See the Sonos ad for an example)
- Demonstrating the product or service meets or exceeds the target customers’ needs, thereby generating purchase intentions (like Sodastream, although that ad also had an awareness generating component )
- Pointing the customer to where he or she might find the product
- Trying to engender loyalty or recommendations by reinforcing an existing view of the product or service
- Building brand loyalty by emphasizing consistent imagery (like Budweiser and Doritos)
Generating awareness among your target audience
For products or services aiming for this first objective, the viewer saw a lot of attribute-based informative advertising. Such advertising might have, for example, helped Rosalyn Rosenfeld, the character played delightfully by Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle, avoid the destruction of the “science box” (a microwave oven) brought home by her husband Irving (Christian Bale playing the antithesis of Batman). A good illustration of this was the T-Mobile campaign seeking to inform mobile phone consumers about its no-contract calling plan. By making the connection with Tim Tebow – the former Denver Bronco and NY Jet quarterback currently without contract- the company was able to deftly weave together the key attribute it was communicating (no contract) with the context in which the ad was being aired (a football game).
Similarly, Bud Light’s Cool Twist Distinctive Bottle ad was aimed at communicating a new feature of the product – the twist off cap – to the target audience. Did it make sense for T-Mobile or Bud Light to run their ads on the big game? Since T-Mobile is a smaller player in the category than AT&T and Verizon, they needed to get out this and other key messages (such as the speed of the 4G network) to an audience consisting largely of customers of those services. From that perspective the Super Bowl is a good forum to achieve this objective. And in Bud Light’s case, the idea was to communicate the new attribute to its existing customer base – we are innovating to serve you, our target customer better. Both these ads were aimed at providing information on the product to customers otherwise uninformed of these benefits.
On the other hand, one can argue that the Maserati commercial was somewhat misplaced at the Super Bowl. Clearly it satisfied the criterion of generating awareness for the Ghibli car being launched in the U.S. However, priced at over $65,000, only a small fraction of the Super Bowl audience is likely to have been target Maserati customers. That money might have been better spent on targeted communication to a more focused group of potential customers.
Building the brand loyalty by emphasizing consistent imagery
Companies also invested heavily in image-oriented persuasive advertising. A good example of this was Microsoft’s “empowering” ad. While several Microsoft technologies were sprinkled throughout the commercial, the ad focused on the higher benefit of the empowering role of technology. Furthermore, the ad does not explicitly identify Microsoft products that do appear in the commercial. To the extent that viewers associate general progress made by humanity via technology with Microsoft, it elevates the company’s image in the minds of the audience. I refer to such advertising as persuasive. It does not communicate information on any specific attributes or benefits of Microsoft or its products; rather it gives a more a general overview of technology in which Microsoft plays a role. By making the connection between Microsoft and technology the company may be hoping for a halo effect on specific Microsoft products that consumers may encounter in the future. In other words, this appears to be a longer-term branding related play than one associated with a specific purchase funnel.
Coca Cola’s “America the Beautiful” ad also fits into this genre of brand building by reinforcing the diversity image that the brand has tried hard to create and nurture. Not only does the commercial stay true to that image (i.e., consistency), the company’s decision to continue with the ad even in the wake of surrounding controversy reflects another hallmark of branding – being persistent with that consistent image. When trying to be consistent and persistent, brands must be careful not to sound like Pat (Bradley Cooper’s character in Silver Linings Playbook) who is accused by Tiffany (played by the Oscar-winning Jennifer Lawrence) of saying “more inappropriate things than appropriate things.”
Ultimately the success or failure of advertising needs to be assessed relative to the company’s initial objectives. If the objective was to generate awareness, one can look metrics like recall. At the other extreme, if the objective was to create an image for the brand, then one can measure consumers’ knowledge of the brand’s projected image and how relevant that image is for the target consumer.