4 marketing lessons you should steal from the Super Bowl

What would you do with $5 million? Probably not burn it on one Super Bowl ad, right? Still, there’s a lot of marketing-learning-per-minute at the Super Bowl, particularly in the Super Bowl commercials.

Here’s how our PR firm would suggest you bring the big league moves to your own marketing budget.

1. On brand

In Super Bowl 50, Budweiser’s Clydesdales came back for a hoof-stomping 60 seconds that’s 100% brand. Bud’s “Not Backing Down” showed us their brand as their audience’s values in action.

 

Spraying beer? Bring it on. You’re a great marketer (and Anheuser Busch sure is) when you believe in your bones that your customers own your brand. Their values are your brand’s values.

Good-but-not-yet-great marketers work hard to push a brand ideal.  Case in point? The struggling ad for Shocktop:

Promoting custom tradeshow exhibits Blazer creates an unintentionally adversarial relationship with the most important people the company has–its customers. Just let them be. Show them you see them, like Bud–no backing down. Here’s more on creating content marketing that works with your core values.

2. On story

You know all marketers believe in the power of story. You’re a great marketer when you share your customer’s stories, instead of telling your own. This was beautifully created in the Axe Super Bowl commercial. There’s no question that for Axe, their heroes are the myriad developing identities of young dudes:

 

Average marketers say they’re storytellers. Mostly, they’re just telling their own–as in,  the product as the hero. For example, the Mini  Cooper commercial with the Mini front and center has lots of types of people telling about, well, the Mini:

 

For $5 million a minute, not counting production, this is kinda flat.

Great marketers don’t do this move often. Instead, they put the real hero–the customer–on the stage alone, strong and secure. (Here’s more on how to use this message strategy.) Mini Cooper does know how to do this–the earlier commercial with Serena Williams talking about how she accepts herself as she is (and oh, she happens to drive a mini)–that’s by far the more interesting ad. See how it plays for you next to the one above:

 

3. On cadence

You’re a great marketer when you refuse to over-saturate your prospects (despite how easy technology makes it to do that). You keep an eye on churn, abandonment, and list attrition because you know it’s easy to overwhelm. You want your prospects to be hungry to hear from you, not deaf.

Super Bowl commercials like Pantene’s with burly men braiding their daughter’s hair were inspired by this understanding.

Pantene commercials have been about young women with glossy manes “forever”–so by having men center stage, and glorifying their relationship with their daughters, Pantene cleverly refreshed their message.

4. On experimentation

You’re a great marketer if you have made a new mistake recently. Great marketers experiment with marketing like it’s religion–and for them, it is. They have a portion of their marketing budget reserved for crazy ways to create opportunity that they’ve never tried before and have no idea how to execute. (My marketing agencyrecommends 15%-20% of the budget in this bucket.)

Many of the Super Bowl ads are also in the “brand experiment” category–from the PuppyMonkey Baby from Mountain Dew, to the Doritos chip-induced abortion commercial, to Amazon Echo’s first commercial and they all buy views on youtube to keep them up top :

 

“Good-enough” marketers keep investing in what works. They don’t try to color too far outside of the lines. They optimize and maximize their ad spend diligently. And there’s nothing wrong with this–it’s “good enough” most of the time.

It doesn’t leave room for art, though–the messiness, the mistakes, and the opportunities to transform a good marketing program into a game-changing one. As you re-watch some of your fave Super Bowl commercials, keep in mind the scale may be bigger, but the art is the same as yours. And you got this. Go big sometimes–even the big leagues do it. Their ad may be spammed or slammed, but it’s out there–and you should be, too. Let us know if we can help.

This was first published in my Inc. Magazine column.