Superbowl Advertising: A Strategic Compromise?

Posted on 2nd February 2015 by Elaine Birch

Superbowl dog

Forget the might of the Patriots or the power of the Seahawks, for many, Sunday’s Superbowl fight was not between a team from New England or one from Seattle, but between the brands brave enough to put themselves centre stage in the ad breaks. 

For many years, advertising and brand experts have waited with bated breath to see which brands will appear, what they will say, and how far they will go to project their message to the world, on a night where, even if not everyone is watching, most people know someone who is. Even in the UK, a nation not widely known for its interest in American football, the buzz around Superbowl advertising is considerable, and growing every year as brands become more global.

This year was no different: watercooler talk in the office and column inches in the papers have been dominated by discussions of Nationwide’s depressing reminder to invest in home safety or the retro cool feel of Bud Light’s take on Pac Man.

However, it strikes me that brands choosing to put themselves out there on the Superbowl stage run the risk of overplaying, or even cheapening their creativity.  Is it just once a year that they have the budget, brains, and, dare I say it, the balls, to deliver a powerful message on such a global platform?  And if so, do brands risk straying from their central marketing message and strategy, simply to make a bigger splash, causing controversy for the sake of it?

There’s no denying that many Superbowl ads are some of the most daring, innovative and striking pieces of advertising that we see, but the danger is that if all efforts are being focused on this one opportunity, then the concept of a lasting strategy goes out of the window.  Successful marketing is increasingly being achieved by brands who put time, effort and funds into developing and delivering campaigns based around a solid identity and a strong central theme.  Only then can brands create a consistent message and perception across the growing spectrum of platforms.

I’m not saying that brands shouldn’t go all out for Superbowl advertising; the event is a worldwide spectacle and it’s fitting that the commercials should also be viewed as mini events by themselves.  But it’s vital that brands remember to stick to the fundamental principles of building sustainable, memorable marketing messages that work well across channels and into the long-term, rather than creating a mini masterpiece that is watercooler fodder today but gone tomorrow.

My top tips that B2B marketers can learn from the Superbowl:

  • Being brave is good, but don’t invest everything in a tactic or project that will get people talking if it compromises your brand identity or your central message. It’s one thing to create an impact, but if this means that the brand that you’ve worked years to build isn’t represented truthfully, the damage can be considerable.
  • Always remember your audience. Investing in scoping and understanding who buys from you is hugely important, and every output you deliver needs to appeal to those groups.  Don’t make the mistake of doing something new just to be different, and risk alienating or confusing your loyal customer base.
  • Be memorable for longer. Building sustainable marketing programmes that continue to deliver strong messages about your brand are more powerful in the long term than flash in the pan tactics that make you popular today, but forgettable next week.

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