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Super Bowl Ads 2019 – The Most Popular May Not Be the Most Strategic

5 Feb

IMG_0816     There were clearly two games on Super Bowl Sunday, the battle on the field and the battle during time outs.   This year, major brands spent more than $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime to compete for your attention and social media approval.  Viewers have already spoken on tracking sites such as USA Today’s Ad Meter as to which commercials were their favorites.  But when brands spend this much money to promote a message, it needs to fulfill a focused business strategy that’s more tangible than simply winning a popularity contest.

     In several cases, there were brands that successfully married a core business strategy with an entertaining, if not an emotional appeal to the viewer to know something and perhaps feel something about their product.  The goal of course, is to position the brand and the product in the mind of the viewer when they are making a purchasing decision.   I’m singling four key business strategies clearly on display during Super Bowl LIII and perhaps the best creative examples of how individual brands executed them.

Switch Brands/Products: Stella Artois

     One of the strategies marketers use to increase sales is to convince consumers to switch brands or products and purchase theirs instead.  That’s exactly the strategy on display in Stella Artois’ Super Bowl entry.  In this case, Stella sees its competition as premium cocktails.  They creatively use the concept of humor and star power to build a narrative about not being afraid to “change up the usual.”

     The genius of casting Sarah Jessica Parker is that her best-known character is synonymous with cosmopolitans.  Likewise, The Dude, Jeff Bridges drinks only white Russians.  Not anymore.  The strategic message here: if Carrie Bradshaw and The Dude can switch products, so can you.

Product Introduction:  Mercedes Benz, Microsoft

    If you’re a global brand needing wide exposure to launch a new product or innovation, the Super Bowl is the best platform on the planet.  It’s exactly why you see so many ads each year unveiling new car models.  Enter Mercedes Benz.  The point of differentiation in its new A-Class sedan is that one can customize the driving experience with simple voice commands.  The ad is strategic in its message, target audience, desired response.  The ad is squarely aimed at achiever millennial men who like experiential settings and crave creative control.  The targeted message: say the word to change your car.   The desired response: if your car doesn’t do this, come test drive ours.

     Microsoft hit the emotional bulls eye with its ad called “We all win.”  But this too is really a product introduction for its new adaptive game controller.  It features the little boy Owen who we met last Fall in another brilliant Microsoft ad about children and the equal playing field of gaming.  In this ad, Owen and other children like him demonstrate how with Microsoft’s new adaptive controller, disabilities become abilities.   While this may be a new product marketed to parents and children with physical barriers, its broader audience is all of us.   In this ad Microsoft is challenging us to change our views on what it means to be disabled and how technology elevates us all.

Rate of Use:  Mr. Peanut

    Another strategy that brands use to improve sales is to encourage consumers to buy their product more often.  That’s the core strategy behind Planter’s Mr. Peanut ad.  Again, this ad is very strategic in its message, audience, and desired action.  Planter’s cleverly uses humor and a schema of Mr. Peanut trying to save sports fans from a snacking emergency.  The brand uses former baseball star Alex Rodriguez to target sports watching men by encouraging them to buy Planters mixed nuts next time you need a crunchy, wholesome snack. 

Product Attributes: Amazon, Google

    Sometimes the strategy is about increasing sales through highlighting a unique product function.  In Amazon’s case, highlighting what its artificial intelligence speaker Alexa can, and most importantly, should not do.  Amazon used the star power of Harrison Ford to not only poke fun at itself with supposed Alexa misfires, but in doing so also hinting at the useful tasks Alexa can do.  The ad entertains and implores us to use Alexa more often for the stuff that didmake the cut.

    Google also gave us an admirable ad about a specific function of its search engine to help veterans with the military codes that are unique to them.  The ad reminds them that no simple code defines them, but can help them search for what’s next.  It takes a brave and secure brand to talk about others more than itself, and Google gave us a message that is both memorable and useful.

    Together, these ads may not be among the most popular among Super Bowl viewers, but they all creatively target a specific audience with a clear business purpose. At the end of the game, these ads need to help brands achieve their goals.  Winning a popularity contest is nice, but if the ads don’t help the brand move sales, market share, or awareness, then they were perhaps a waste of the millions it cost o produce and air.

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