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The Last Great Marketing Event… And Why So Many Brands Blew It

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No one watches TV anymore. At least not in the way we all once did. Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, Prime Video – I use each of those apps weekly (not to mention the stuff I DVR), and I'm likely considered a light user. Of course, one of the most affected components of this new normal is how creative advertisers must be to continue to find us – to make sure their message gets across regardless of the format. It’s given rise to some truly creative tactics, a topic we’ve explored in past articles.

But the Super Bowl represents an opportunity marketers just don’t get very often anymore: a clean shot at a collective of consumers – and in real time, no less. Get a room full of people in jovial moods talking about your brand? You’ve literally just described nirvana to an online marketer trying to start a hashtag campaign.

But that’s not what happened this year.

Granted, trying to plan out a successful Super Bowl spot is a lot like trying to plan for NRF. There is a lot of potential business waiting on the other side if you get it right - but it’s expensive as hell, and it’s tough to predict what the mood will be. In that sense, we empathize; It’s not easy.

But with the stakes so high ($5 million for a 30 second spot) and so many talented minds involved, why did we, the sitting duck audience, get hit with so many absolutely forgettable ads?

My answer is pretty simple: because brands are confused.

Yes, the social and political climate right now is nothing short of bizarre. The dad getting kicked in the nuts may not play as well as it did during the Clinton administration, nor may the limitless patriotism of the ads during 2002’s big game.

And the fact that so many brands tried to tug on our emotional heartstrings last year with a message of “we’ll all get through tough times together if we can see our commonalities more so than our differences” - only to abandon it this year tells us one thing: it didn’t sell products.

So what does? And that’s really the far bigger issue.

From this year’s ads, the thought seemed to be only “let’s make something that will go viral - viral sells products,” but with very little insight or direction for how that might happen. This included special effects to make Steven Tyler look 30 again, kitsch in the form of Keanu Reeves as some type of mystic, or Chris Pratt singing an entirely forgettable song about liking beer. Celebrities? Check. But was anyone talking about them the next day?

If this collection of ads solidified anything it’s that we’re over-celebritied right now. The notion that the inclusion of a celebrity will make your advertising budget  money well-spent – that it will automatically help a campaign go viral - should be stricken dead here and now. One of the most viral ads in Super Bowl history featured a kid wearing a Darth Vader helmet, but it sold a lot of Volkswagens because it tapped into something emotional: “VW gets me. VW is cool. I’m cool, too.”

I’ll admit: no one is paying me to come up with an idea for their Super Bowl spot for 2019. But you can rest assured that if they did, I’d come up with something a lot more entertaining than 90% of what we were all subjected to last Sunday. Why so confident? Because I wouldn’t start with let’s-figure-out-what-makes-videos-go-viral and reverse engineer from there. That is a recipe for disaster. Instead, I’d focus on who my customer is, what they would enjoy seeing, and then take it from that starting point.

Indeed, in an age when data abounds but understanding seems tougher to come by than ever, understanding who your customer is and what will get - not just a reaction - but a reaction that will stay in their memory – is king. It doesn’t just apply to ads, either. It’s a lesson about marketing, about products, about how to rise above the noise coming at us all from every angle.

So even if you have no intentions of ever running a spot during the game - even if you never plan to run a “traditional” video advertisement anywhere again – take a lesson from this year’s Super Bowl: figure out who you’re talking to and give them content they’ll want, first and foremost.

Because it is painfully obvious to anyone paying attention when you don’t.

 


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Articles & Opinions February 13, 2018
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