5 Marketing Lessons from Super Bowl LIV

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Some Sundays are more special than others. Can they get any more unique than Super Sunday? I don’t think so. When you think about it, hardly any other sporting event can compete with the buzz generated by the Super Bowl.

I come from a corner of the world where football has a slightly different meaning than it does in America. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that I couldn’t wait to see what the end of the NFL’s 100th season brings to the table. I am not going to lie. Like many people, I was far more interested in the Super Bowl commercials than the game. As a marketer, can you blame me though?

Those who decided to air their latest creative efforts during the game had to reach deep in their pockets. A 30-second ad spot cost a record-breaking $5.6 million this year. To get the biggest bang for their buck, some of the brands started teasing their ads weeks before Super Sunday.

I didn’t want to create another recap of all the ads that aired during the Super Bowl. Instead, I focused on the marketing lessons we can all learn from this year’s big spenders. While some brands decided to take the ever-popular humorous approach, others took a stand on crucial social matters.

Telling a Story Well Always Works

I don’t think there’s a marketing concept that’s been emphasized stronger than storytelling in the last couple of years. It’s not about telling stories just for the sake of it, but using them to get people’s attention for specific reasons and connecting them to fundamental brand values and beliefs.

One of the highlights from this year’s Super Bowl ads is Be The One from Microsoft. The 60-second clip tells the story of Katie Sowers, an offensive assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers. She’s just made history as the first female coach at the Super Bowl, and the ad focuses on how, since she was a little girl, she always wanted to become a coach.

The reason why this story resonates so well with me is it’s relatable on many different levels. We all have dreams, even if we are sometimes too young to realize how serious they are. There are so many roadblocks on our way to realizing them, as there are on Katie’s path. As she says in the final seconds of the ad, “All it takes is one, and then it opens the door for so many.” Thanks to her perseverance, she created a breakthrough in an environment heavily dominated by men. A breakthrough not only for her but also for other women pursuing their goals.

I love how Microsoft branding is almost non-existent throughout the video. Yes, Katie is using their Surface Book. Still, it’s just a tiny detail that complements her hard work. The message is that you’re never out of your depth if you back your talent with hard work.

Secret and Olay struck similar cords. Their ads are not as much about telling personal stories as they are about emphasizing the equality of women: whether it’s in sports, space exploration, or any other area of life. A football field or spaceship simply serve as examples. The most important fact is that more and more brands are embracing and incorporating equality into their message. People are no longer afraid to fight for what they believe in, and they want brands to take a stand too.

People Will Never Have Enough of Pop-cultural References

I bet you’ve all watched at least one ad that stuck with you because of a song or catchphrase they used that you couldn’t get out of your head. Puppy Monkey Baby anyone? If overdone, it can be super annoying. No doubt about that. On the other hand, add some creative spin to a timeless classic, and you can stay top of mind with your target audience for months, or maybe even years. Mountain Dew learned this lesson, and their parody of The Shining puts them among the best ads of Super Bowl LIV. They brought back one of the most iconic scenes in the film history and added their own, branded, twist to it.

If you feel like this type of ad could work for your brand, it’s a recipe for success. Other brands that pulled this off successfully last night were Pringles, with their Rick and Morty impression, and Jeep taking us down memory lane with their Groundhog Day-themed ad. This played out exceptionally well, especially with Groundhog Day falling on the same day as Super Sunday this year.

Small Businesses Are Not Going Anywhere

While it’s just a single example, Squarespace’s ad is among my favorites out of this year’s line-up. We find Winona Ryder laying down under the “Welcome to Winona, Minnesota” road sign and building a website about the town of Winona. So meta, right? And when you realize Winona was also born in Winona… Okay, I am getting dizzy.

Anyway, the takeaway here is local businesses and communities are as important as ever. Even if sometimes only the locals know about them, Squarespace points out, “A website makes it real.” The message is that you’re just a few clicks away from putting your business out into the world. Don’t we all have local businesses we love? That’s what makes this ad relevant and so relatable. If I had a business and wanted to build a website for it, Squarespace would definitely be top of mind for me, thanks to this ad.

The Future Is Now

Remember The Jetsons? This futuristic cartoon was way ahead of its time. I watched it twenty or so years ago as a little boy, and it seemed set so far into the future. Fast forward to 2020, and voice assistants are picking up more and more steam.

Amazon and Google looked at the same subject from two completely different angles. The Alexa ad starring Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi jokes about what life looked like before Alexa, going as far back as medieval times. Loretta, on the other hand, is a tearjerker with an elderly man using Google Assistant to relive and remember the highlights of his relationship with his wife, who has passed away.

There’s more and more tech around us, and whether you like it or not, it’s going to increase in the future. From a marketing standpoint, these two ads are a good indication that we should incorporate voice assistants sooner rather than later to stay ahead of the curve.

We Need to Take Care of Our Planet

Many of us are well aware of the environmental crisis the Earth is going through. Global warming and pollution are no joke even if we really wish they were.

The good thing is, many businesses realize that and are doing their best to remind us how important it is to take action right now. I’m talking about serious issues, but the brands that decided to run their Super Bowl ads on that subject took a more light-hearted approach.

Audi hit us with an unconventional match between Maisie Williams and Let It Go. Even if you haven’t watched Frozen, you must have heard this song at least once. Anyway, the ad is straightforward with what its key message is. The Game of Thrones star, this time stuck in a traffic jam and fed up with fumes filling the air, does a U-turn and drives “to a more sustainable future” in her electric e-tron model from Audi.

The theme is particularly intriguing when we remember the emissions fraud crisis that hit the Volkswagen group hard in the recent past. This year’s ad is a step in the right direction on the way to recovering from “diesel-gate.”

Porsche came back to the big game for the first time since 1997. The German automaker takes us for a wild ride around Stuttgart, just seconds after their first all-electric Taycan is stolen from the Porsche Museum. While I might have enough of the Fast and Furious franchise, I have to admit I love the dynamics of it. The question is, does it convey a message of an eco-friendly vehicle clearly enough?

We Can Learn So Much More

There’s no secret sauce to a Super Bowl ad. Some of them will stay in our memory for years, and that’s not always because of how well-thought-out they were. There are also those that we wish we would have never seen. One way or another, all marketers can take a page out of the Super Bowl advertising playbook before they plan their future campaigns.

Did I like all of the 47 ads I watched? Of course not. I’d even say that some of them were burning cash (I am looking at you, Heinz). That doesn’t change the fact that I loved taking down notes as I watched all of the ads. Even if they didn’t all serve a higher purpose, the majority of them evoked all sorts of emotions in me. I burst out laughing watching the Bud Light Seltzer ad, and then I nearly burst into tears watching Loretta. Isn’t that what good marketing is all about?

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