This year, Super Bowl commercials cost $5 million for a 30-second ad. While that’s a lot of eyeballs–most of which actually pay attention to the commercials, since the event has become the Super Bowl of advertising–it’s also a lot of money.
When executed properly, Super Bowl commercials can be a great way to grow reach, engage customers, and motivate consumers to think differently about a brand…but doing so requires more than just money.
According to David Sutton, president and CEO of Top Right, a transformational marketing firm that represents Global 2000 brands, and the author of the upcoming book, Marketing Interrupted: Sometimes the Only Way to Succeed Is to Go a Little Crazy, “Brands that don’t get it see it as Field of Dreams marketing: ‘If you build it, they will come.’ Super Bowl ads can’t just be a one-off event; they should be part of a sophisticated, high-level strategy.”
That’s why many Super Bowl ads are entertaining…but not effective.
“Advertising is a spin-off of entertainment,” Dave says. ” But here’s the thing: Story without strategy is art. Story with strategy is marketing. If you’re just trying to ruffle feathers or make people cry, you’ll get entertainment points…but some of the most entertaining ads don’t sell products. Certainly there is value in entertainment alone, but don’t call it marketing.”
With that in mind: Out of the hundreds of ads produced over the years, what are Dave’s top five Super Bowl ads?
Here they are, along with Dave’s detailed explanation why:
Coca-Cola: “Mean Joe Greene” (1980)
This is the quintessential Super Bowl ad.
In 1980, football was nowhere near as popular as it is today, and TV advertising was still in a nascent stage, focusing primarily on product features and function.
But bring in Mean Joe Green, a genuine badass, bring in the kid, tell a simple story that stirs emotion….
What most advertisers forget is that the customer should feel like the hero, not the product. The kid is the hero. Then Joe is the hero. The Coke is just the Sherpa; it’s just the delivery mechanism. The ad doesn’t say it tastes great, doesn’t say it’s refreshing…it focuses on the social interaction and the emotional tie that forms between a superstar player and a little boy.
That made people remember their emotional connection to the product and drove retention and advocacy for the brand.
Apple: “1984” (1984)
I love this ad for two reasons.
One, it raised the bar. Before 1984, Super Bowl commercials were important, but brands still weren’t spending that much money. This ad helped create a turning point where the Super Bowl really began to be an important platform for getting a message out.
The second is the story: It was simple, memorable, stirred emotions, and prompted reflection.
The PC dominated the computer market, and people basically accepted that was the way it was going to be. Then along came the Mac, and it really did shatter that wall and gave people an opportunity to try something else. That’s the focus of the ad: No functionality, no features… just break down the path we’re on, one that we believe is leading to conformity, group-think, etc.
It was hugely successful; you can easily point to that moment as when the “Think Different” campaign was born at Apple.
Oddly enough, it only ran once, but it was a pivotal moment for the brand, moving them in a direction where they not only created a new category but positioned themselves in one place…and every competitor in another.
Why did it only run once? One theory is that Jobs wanted it to be a break-out ad that existed in a moment in time. Another is that the producers of the movie 1984 felt there were copyright infringements involved and sent Apple a cease and desist order.
Whatever the reason, from an ROI perspective it was massive.
Snickers: “Betty White” (2010)
This ad takes extremes and puts them into the same storyline: Betty White, on a muddy football field with a bunch of guys playing tackle football. And there are two punchlines: one, Betty White, and then the quarterback who was giving Mike a hard time gets tackled…and he’s Abe Vigoda.
It’s simple and memorable because it prompts internal reflection. I’ve felt that way. You’ve felt that way. And then the Snickers bar isn’t the hero, like the Coke, it’s just a delivery mechanism. The hero is the girlfriend–she helps Mike get back to peak form.
Because Snickers isn’t the hero, the interaction people have with the brand defines the moment. And they know their audience very well: They’ve targeted an audience and given those people a new occasion to think about: A way to recharge you when you need to be recharged. They help viewers see themselves in that situation, give them a usage occasion that makes sense…and a fun story that wraps it all up.
Snickers was also smart about the long tail of advertising. Not only is the long tail the internet, social media, and other mediums that help an ad live long past its TV moment. The storyline allowed them to run variations with a number of other characters: Aretha Franklin, Liza Minnelli, Joe Pesci, Joan Collins, Robin Williams, etc.
This one ad created a platform and a system to continue to remind people of the “re-energize yourself” moment.
That’s a savvy and sophisticated strategy.
Doritos: “Slap” (2010)
Here’s a great example of how to make the customer the hero: The kid is the hero, stepping up and defending his mom–and his Doritos.
One thing people often forget is that Doritos started a movement where they let consumers develop the ads. “Slap” was produced by a couple of aspiring filmmakers.
The beauty of that approach is that Doritos created a national contest with the prize having your commercial aired during the Super Bowl. Not only did they make the consumer the hero, the producer was also the hero.
Interestingly, this is considered one of the top 10 ads in the history of PepsiCo (parent of the Doritos brand) and it wasn’t produced by a major agency.
Volkswagen: “The Force” (2011)
Many people love this ad. Sure, it involves a kid and a relatable storyline…but what makes it special is that these guys really broke the rules.
For the longest time, it was unusual to broadcast an ad before the super Bowl. After all, the Super Bowl is when your reveal the surprise. Maybe you get people talking with a little foreshadowing, but you don’t launch before the big day.
Volkswagen realized that not only is there a long tail, there can also be a long runway. There are opportunities to build momentum with digital media followers, and this is the most shared ad in history on social media.
With high involvement purchase decisions–buying a car is a lot different than buying a Snickers, because no one is going to go out the very next day and buy a car just because they watched an ad–a long runway helps get people to go to your website and start researching, start thinking about a new car…people were looking at Passats and Jettas well before the game.
In that way, Volkswagen conditioned the market before the actual sales call.
This ad generated massive results, and not just in terms of sharing. People were walking into dealerships talking about the ad, and Volkswagen sold over 20,000 cars that they could track back to it, which is phenomenal in the auto industry.
That’s why this is my No. 1 ad: Not only does it tell a great story, not only did it create massive social engagement…it produced massive results that can be tracked, start to finish, to their entire Super Bowl campaign.
That’s how you win the Super Bowl–of advertising.