17 years ago, I started college as a marketing major…
It wasn’t because I was excited about marketing at the time. Rather, I graduated high school with no freaking clue what I was going to do with my life. My mom thought I might like marketing and advertising. So I enrolled, figuring I could change it later (I did).
When I started as a marketing major, I thought Super Bowl ads were pretty much the pinnacle of the advertising world. That, and dumb local TV ads were pretty much the only advertising I’d ever paid any attention to.
What I’ve learned since then: Super Bowl ads ARE the pinnacle… of DUMB advertising!
Even though I make my living in advertising, I didn’t watch the Super Bowl yesterday. Not for the game. Not for the artistic performances. And definitely not for the commercials.
I caught the Schuyler sisters’ from Hamilton’s performance on YouTube afterward. And I’ll probably watch Lady Gaga’s halftime.
But when I went back to watch ads, thinking I’d find a lesson or two to write about, I just couldn’t…
Not that every ad was bad. It’s just that there were enough bad ads that I didn’t have the patience to sit through and find the good ones.
“But Roy, what’s wrong with the Super Bowl ads?”
Thanks for chiming in with the right question at the right time…
When I didn’t know any better, I decided whether ads were good or bad based on my reaction to them…
— Did they make me laugh?
— Did they make me think?
— Was I entertained?
And, by and large, that’s the exact same criteria used by the decision makers at so many of the companies that spend millions on Super Bowl advertising.
But have you guessed what’s missing from that list? How about…
Was it worth it?
You don’t have to be a reader for very long to figure out that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool direct marketer.
Which means that I subscribe to Uncle Claude’s credo that advertising MUST be judged by the same criteria you’d use to judge a salesperson…
Did it bring in a new customer? Did it make a sale? Did it generate a profit? Was the return from the money spent more than the investment?
At a going rate of $10 MILLION PER MINUTE, Super Bowl ads are the most expensive salespeople on the planet!
The rate for this year’s Super Bowl ads was $5 million for a 30-second spot.
Is that a bargain for the right company? Absolutely — as long as they use it well.
But the vast majority of Super Bowl advertisers clearly have no clue about how to make an ad pay.
Because they run total trash, and think if it got a laugh in the board room, it was a good move.
I’ll get to how I’d structure a Super Bowl ad in a minute, but first…
The “creative” ad agency culture is getting away with highway robbery!
Okay, time for a rant. Why do advertisers spend such exorbitant sums to run junk ads during the Super Bowl?
Well, in pure economic terms, it’s because of a mis-incentivized market.
Ad agencies get pricey production contracts and a big media-buying payday. (A 20% media buyer fee is a cool $1 million for a 30-second spot.)
And they don’t want to be seen as a failure. They don’t want to be seen as the ones who wasted all that client money. So they have created a culture where they don’t hold themselves accountable for client results.
Without the market’s response to judge their ads, what do they use instead? Industry awards. The ad industry is full of awards for ads based on creativity, not results. The funniest ad. The most touching ad. The most shocking ad. And so on. But never the most profitable.
The creatives reward each other for creativity in one big circular… Back scratching party.
And if you’re an executive who is blowing all that shareholder money on wasteful advertising, you can still hold your head up high if your agency’s ad was up for creative awards.
They convince you it’s all about eyeballs and exposure — ask Janet Jackson about Super Bowl exposure — and so you have a good story to tell shareholders.
Meanwhile the ad agencies who land the contracts make a fortune for creating good entertainment, but horrible advertising.
Rant over — so what would a good Super Bowl ad look like?
In short, a good Super Bowl ad is going to do the same thing as any good salesperson or ad would do…
— Get the ATTENTION of the ideal target market…
— Build INTEREST in your offer by highlighting its benefits, and showing how it solves a pressing problem…
— Stimulate DESIRE to take the next step, to get the benefits of the offer now…
— Demand ACTION from interested parties, using urgency and a clear explanation of next steps…
Pretty straightforward. But let’s take it one step further…
The two most important aspects of any short-form ad, including Super Bowl ads…
In a short TV ad, you don’t have a lot of time. 30 seconds. Maybe a minute.
In that time, your best bet is to get your best prospects to seek you out for the next step in the customer relationship.
Which means you need to start the ad in a way that makes them say, “This is for me.”
Within the first 5 to 10 seconds of the ad, it should be clear who the ad is for, and why they need to pay attention.
Then, you want them to say, “I need to take action now.”
People are always distracted. As soon as your ad is over, their attention will be elsewhere. Which means if you want them, you gotta get them to move now.
So you make some kind of irresistible offer to engage with you before the ad is over.
The best Super Bowl ads send you to their website for the thrilling conclusion. Making you skip the next ad, or the next few plays of the game.
(GoDaddy was the master of this — and making Super Bowl ads pay — as I’ve written about before. You don’t have to like their ad content to appreciate that they knew how to create profitable Super Bowl ads. And it was no coincidence that the founder had small business marketing experience and was still at the helm making advertising decisions during their Super Bowl advertising heyday.)
Back to the big picture…
Zooming out, you can look at even the most egregiously anti-sales Super Bowl ads, and acknowledge that they were trying to accomplish one important goal.
They wanted people to pay attention — to the ad, and through the ad, to the business.
Even ad agencies that pride themselves on creativity and eschew selling still claim that they’re trying to build awareness and brand image.
My approach is also meant to accomplish that goal.
And yet, its intention is to take it one step further. To turn awareness into action. To turn eyeballs into leads.
If you can get a qualified prospect to take one step closer to the purchase, you can make even the smallest, broadest-market advertising successful.
Mass media is great for direct marketers to drive prospects online, into an automated selling system. Offer a coupon. Information. More engaging content. The rest of the story. Whatever will resonate best with your audience. And in exchange, ask for the email, for contact information, and for permission to give more value.
From there, you build the relationship and move them closer to taking advantage of the offer.
That’s where most Super Bowl ads fail. But it’s also the biggest opportunity that someone is going to take advantage of next year, to make insanely-good ROI on the exorbitant cost of that highly-coveted (and mostly misunderstood) air time…
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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