From the ad archives: Super Bowl Advertising

‘From the ad archives’ features articles written by Braden Social’s founder Eric Zimmett throughout his career in advertising. The first in this series originally appeared on his personal blog, Eric’s Ad Blog, in January of 2011.

When I sat down to compose this week’s post,  I was initially going to write why Super Bowl ads are a waste of money. Why unless the ad is as big as the game itself, I began, then the advertiser should stay out of the game.

But then it hit me like the Packers Clay Mathews slamming Ben Roethlisberger to the Cowboys Stadium turf: the Super Bowl is the best thing in the advertising world. A stage to showcase the best ideas. And the pressure that will hopefully let the creative rise to the top. The Super Bowl attracts millions. Some for the game, many for the ads. As an ad man myself, how much better can it get?

The Super Bowl provides the world’s largest stage for spreading your message. 106 Million for Super Bowl XLIV in 2010,  the most-watched program in U.S. history. So, as far as the numbers go, it’s a perfect opportunity to make an impact. If used correctly.

The problem is, most advertisers use that opportunity to entertain. If they take the entertainment route, I’m afraid that’s all that occurs. The audience may be amused for 30 or 60 seconds; the ad may even get to the top of the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter. But does it accomplish anything else?

Here are the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter results from Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.

Still remember any of those?

In the best case scenario, an advertiser’s $3-Million-spot (the going rate for a 30-second ad in this year’s game) entertains and informs, and any entertainment therein is somehow tied to the brand. Hopefully there’s a connection with the consumer.

Sometimes it looks more like ads were created by Entertainment Agencies, rather than Advertising Agencies.

I don’t pretend to know all of the answers. In some cases, humor works perfectly. Sometimes entertaining the audience is the best way to go.  But it’s not done easily. A lot of it depends on the business category. Is it one of style or one of substance?

“This sounds crazy, but I think what you’re really saying is ‘I’m part of the people that get this humor.’ Like ‘I’m part of that group.’ They want to be part of that community and the [product] becomes the badge of that community. I think that’s why it works.” – Jeff Goodby of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

The real question is how to make a Super Bowl ad stick.

I imagine there’s one theme in the production meetings for every Super Bowl ad: Think Big. And “big” doesn’t necessarily mean crazy, outrageous or shocking. As ad legend David Ogilvy once said, “Big ideas are usually simple ideas.”

Though sometimes that’s exactly what “big” means. Take, for example, “1984,” which aired in Super Bowl XVIII on Jan. 22, 1984. Created by Chiat/Day, “1984” introduced the Apple Macintosh to the would.

1984 Apple’s First Macintosh Commercial

“Every year at the Super Bowl, somebody calls and wants to talk about ‘1984.’ And people keep trying to explain why it was such a breakthrough. Some people point to the fact that we never showed the product. Some people point to the fact that the Super Bowl has this vast audience and nobody had ever done anything quite this dramatic. Some people point to the fact that we only ran it once. But I really think it’s…one of those ‘everything happened just right.'” – Lee Clow, chief creative officer, Chiat Day.

So here are my two “points” on why I think 1984 worked, two things that made it stick. Point No. 1) a reason for a BIG commercial: the introduction of the Apple Macintosh personal computer, a breakthrough at the time. Point No. 2) a completely unexpected, unusual and theatrical commercial from Chiat/Day that likely made you drop your bag of Lay’s Potato Chips.

That’s what each advertiser strives for. To make its ads stick in the consumer’s mind for years to come. Maybe that’s done with something “big.” Maybe that’s done with humor, or talking frogs. Maybe it’s done with a simple, yet compelling, message.

That’s what makes advertising so exciting: there’s no sure-fire way to make a great ad. There’s no ‘Silver Bullet.’ (Did Coors Light come to mind there?)

This Sunday, as the world tunes in for Super Bowl XLV, watch the ads as closely as you watch the game. And while you’re watching, take a step back and try to determine why the ad is there. Why it works, or doesn’t work. It just might be that the ad you’re watching will be talked about for the next 25 years. But, more importantly, an ad this Super Bowl Sunday might accomplish all that really matters in business. It might create a customer.

Will that customer be you?

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