By now, we’re at the point where we know what to expect from the Super Bowl ads.
Before the game, you could have jotted down a list of what you thought you would see, based on history. That list probably would have included:
Animals (especially dogs) at their most undeniably adorable
People or animals doing silly dances
Inspiring Statements of High-Minded Purpose
The unusual, the surreal, the flat-out bizarre (with or without reason)
Production values to rival a summer blockbuster film
You can make this kind of list for almost any category. Sometimes, it’s comically easy to do. And the more “tried, true and expected” the items on that list, the more ripe that category is for some rule-breaking.
Quick show of hands: Do you have a marketing budget of five million dollars?
And if you did, how would you feel about spending it in 30 seconds? Because that’s exactly what last night’s Super Bowl advertisers did. Repeatedly.
That’s nearly $167,000 per second – more than most Americans earn in an entire year.
So I trust you’ll forgive me if I approach the Super Bowl ads, and the surrounding fanfare, with a healthy degree of scrutiny. I’m a brand guy – always have been – but I also know this: If it doesn’t sell, it’s bad branding.
Who won Super Bowl LI? Besides the Patriots, that is.
For starters, Fox did pretty well. Days before the game, a Fox exec crowed, “We are going to finish with the highest revenue day in Fox history.”
When you sell dozens of Super Bowl ads for $10 million per minute, there’s probably a pretty good pizza party in the break room.
So advertisers must have done well too, right? Not so fast. Communicus, a research firm, has conducted several studies of the effectiveness of Super Bowl ads. Their findings? Only about one advertiser in five actually builds its brand.
About five million dollars. That’s the cost for one of this year’s 30-second Super Bowl ads.
For most of us who lead challenger brands, that kind of outlay simply isn’t in the realm of possibility. As underdogs, we’re used to doing more with less.
The Super Bowl – and, in particular, the hype surrounding its ads – is perhaps the greatest example in business of flawed thinking on a grand scale. Though attention is heightened during the big game, viewers are primarily looking to be entertained. (This is how we get a Bud Light ad with “caucus” jokes. Oof, you are so ribald!)
Of course, ads that entertain don’t necessarily sell. And challenger brands know that it’s all about selling.
to thisWhile visiting Northeastern Ohio over the holidays, I came across cans of Bud Light that were customized in Cleveland Browns colors. The cans featured the following slogan:
“The Perfect Beer for Being Dawg Pound Proud”
(For those that may not know, the Dawg Pound is the nickname for the bleacher seats behind the east end zone of FirstEnergy Stadium, where the most fervent Browns fans congregate.)
My first reaction to this slogan was that it couldn’t have been written by anyone familiar with the team. I’ve been a Browns fan all my life, and “proud” is not a word we’re using these days. “Justifiably outraged” is more like it; the Browns have just one winning season in the last 13, and have lost 18 of their last 21 games.
Most brands are challenger brands. Probably yours.
It’s not just a matter of share. If you have fewer resources than your competitors, you’re a challenger brand. You might have a smaller budget. Lower awareness. A short-handed sales team. Or all of these, plus a few things I haven’t listed, you lucky devil.
I’ve been fortunate to work on challenger brands for my entire career, in both brand management and consulting. I say “fortunate” because victory is sweeter when you come from behind, or when you achieve more with less.
Around 20 years ago, I was the brand manager of Airheads candy. At the time, our two largest competitors, Skittles and Starburst, outspent us by about 20 to 1. Despite this, we tripled our sales in less than five years. And we launched what became the fastest-selling non-chocolate single in the country. (The Airheads 6-bar package can still be found near cash registers today.)
At the gym I frequent, there’s a personal trainer I don’t think very highly of. Let’s call him Duff.
My issue with Duff is that he doesn’t push his clients to work out very hard. In fact, I’ve never seen one sweat. Instead, it’s more like Social Hour. Sometimes, Duff and his client are chatting it up during an exercise, which suggests a pretty low level of exertion. I wish his clients would stop wasting their time and money, and I want Duff to do better training on their behalf.
On a seemingly unrelated note, yesterday I visited a Walmart in Chicago’s west suburbs. At this store, merchandising took a back seat to other priorities; “cluttered” is a fair term to use.