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Three takeaways from Super Bowl ads to apply to marketing

Three takeaways from Super Bowl ads to apply to marketing

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Paul Gangarossa

Super Bowl ads deliver on a few recurring themes every year, and this year was no different. Whether it’s nostalgia or humor, travel or sustainability, success is tied to three things: creativity, connectivity and comfortability. Hitting on all three of these is how brands make it out of the Super Bowl feeling like it was worth the $6.5 million investment (not counting production).

This is true for any advertising a company could put out there, but it’s certainly amplified with the primetime nature the Big Game brings. Here’s a look back at those who did it well, a few that didn’t and what can be learned from it.

Creativity is still king…

On advertising’s biggest stage, viewers value creativity. The first thing an ad must do is capture attention, and if you can’t do that during the Super Bowl when people are actively watching ads, you’ve got a big (expensive) problem. People want to be surprised and pushed to the limits of their comfort zone, but not thrown so far that they don’t know what happened. It’s the most challenging part of this process, without question. While there was a ton of really great creative on display, I’ll focus on two brands at opposite ends of the spectrum: Coinbase and Wallbox.

Cryptocurrency company Coinbase stole the show with its screensaver-turned-QR-code spot, easily the most unique ad of the evening. What did it net? Over 20 million hits that ultimately caused the site to crash. This was a masterclass in disrupting the viewing experience in a way that got people to act. The number of new customers is unknown, but the brand recognition is through the roof thanks to this ad.

Meanwhile, Wallbox — maker of at-home electric vehicle charging stations — used a bizarre combination of shock and humor. The company’s spot told the story of man who was struck by lightning in 2012 and has had an uneasy relationship with electricity since then. But with the help of Wallbox, he’s ready to give electricity a second chance. Making any element of your product seem dangerous is rarely a good move, and making light of a near-death experience didn’t help. With so many car manufacturers putting EVs on display Sunday night, Wallbox really missed its opportunity with some bad creative.

Takeaway: Your creative should be the reason people are moved to do something. Don’t let it be a distraction.

…But connectivity is a close second

Great ad creative makes the audience react, and the value of that reaction is how it gets applied to the brand. For that reason, the leap from the creative to the brand and its products or services must be manageable. People need to see the connection between the two for that creative to make an impact down the road at the point of consideration or purchase. A pair of B2B companies took on that challenge, and one (Squarespace) clearly outperformed the other (Salesforce).

Squarespace, the business software provider for points of sale and more, nailed its spot featuring Zendaya as Sally who sells seashells by the seashore at her seashore store. The commercial has great pace, plays on a nostalgic tongue-twister and clearly outlines the value of the brand to the user. And all Sally does is humbly say “Shucks,” to put a bow on it. This was a great example of product-led creative that makes it easy for viewers to make the connection.

Salesforce, on the other hand, went all in with a poetic spot featuring Matthew McConaughey. No issue with the creative itself, with the celebrity of choice or with the #TeamEarth message behind it. But slapping the Salesforce logo on the end leaves most of the audience with a considerable leap to make. Salesforce isn’t a consumer product, isn’t known for its save-the-planet efforts and there’s no clear direction on what people should do with the information. This disjointed combination likely resulted in a lot of people remembering the ad with no idea who it was for.

Takeaway 2: If people can’t connect your ad to your brand, it doesn’t matter how much they liked it.

Comfort is a difference-maker

The difference between comfortable and uncomfortable? Its context. A doll sitting on a chair by itself in a nursery is adorable. A doll sitting on a chair in the middle of the attic with a single flickering lightbulb is … uncomfortable. What the Super Bowl proves year in, year out is that when consumers are comfortable with the idea of receiving ads, the odds for success go way up.

The Super Bowl is easily the most comfortable audiences ever are with being interrupted by ads. It’s part of the show and the cultural phenomena of the event. In this way, brands aren’t really fighting for attention because they know people will be actively watching (some say even more than the game itself). This is unique from almost any advertising opportunity, which adds to the cost of participating in it.

Takeaway 3: Consider the mindset of your audience when you have an idea to deliver an ad to them. Are they OK with it? Are they going to be angry about it? Do they have an easy way out? Ads are designed to be intrusive, but there are layers of acceptability for consumers. When they’re comfortable being approached by your brand, the results will speak for themselves.

There’s certainly no formula to a successful ad, and the Super Bowl is an outlier in terms of marketing opportunities. Still, the wins and losses of the night provide learnings that marketers on any stage can apply.

Paul Gangarossa serves as marketing strategist at Dixon Schwabl + Co.