Football, Cars, and Commercials: Super Bowl 50

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Super Bowl 50 is now in the books, and the fans in Indianapolis (and Denver) are smiling. Every conversation at work, on social media, on TV, and on radio is analyzing the game (Von Miller deserved MVP; Peyton is sheer class. The old saying “offense sells tickets but defense wins championships” is true) and the commercials.

Opinions are strong, and often arguments ensue as people question the intelligence of their friends or colleagues because they didn’t get the Honda commercial with sheep singing Queen (What’s not to get?) or because they disagree on the value of Mt. Dew’s PuppyMonkeyBabies (strange beyond words). As a marketer, what stands out to me is how strong people’s opinions are and do their opinions really matter? I know that is a horrible thing to say in today’s society where everyone is offended by everything, including funny Doritos’ ads, but let’s look at it from the point of the advertisers.

Advertisers are spending approximately $5 million on a 30-second spot. The commercial is not intended just to entertain but, rather, to achieve a goal. In evaluating the success of a commercial based on achieving the defined goal, we must consider the advertiser’s target market and the intended message. Three commercials stand out as having done this very successfully, and they are all automotive companies: Buick, Prius, and Jeep.

Buick and Prius are in essentially the same situation. Both brands have strong name recognition and brand identity. The issue each faces is that the known identity is not the one it wishes to have.

Buick is still thought of as a grandparent car. Because of product redesign and a promotional campaign stressing new looks, the idea that Buick is different has been evolving over the last few years. Buick’s Super Bowl ad further developed that theme. The commercial featured model-actress Emily Ratajkowski running to catch a wedding bouquet as guests, including New York Giant’s wide-receiver Odell Beckham Jr., look on. The commercial is entertaining and appeals to the target market. The people seeing this commercial are football fans and/or people who like the “celebrity” nature of Super Bowl festivities. The featured celebrities will appeal to them. The ad ends with guests admiring the car Emily drives away in; “I can’t believe that convertible is a Buick,” they say. Hence, reinforcing the idea that Buick is not what people might remember it to be.

Toyota’s repositioning of its Prius brand has more of an immediate concern. Prius is known for being environmentally friendly, quiet, economical, slow, and not fun. Prius decided to tackle (See what I did there?) this perception head-on with its bank robbery commercial. It was engaging, poked fun at its current image, and got the message across clearly.

My favorite commercial featured black and white facial portraits. This was a commercial for the brand Jeep (owned by Fiat Chrysler Automotive). Traditionally, the brand triggers thoughts of the rugged outdoors, but this commercial took a different approach. It paid respect to the past and featured faces of all ages, genders, and races. It even included a Jurassic Park dinosaur because Jeep was used in that movie. The tone was subdued, classy, and respectful. The final tagline was perfect: “We don’t make Jeep. You do. 75 years. Jeep.” This demonstrated respect for Jeep’s target market and an affinity for who they are as individuals, not just their wallets.

The advertisements supporting social causes were strong. We saw Helen Mirren advising against drinking and driving in her always entertaining way of speaking (sponsored by Budweiser), a spot encouraging water conservation (sponsored by Colgate in its first-ever Super Bowl ad), and a potent advertisement addressing domestic violence (sponsored by the NFL). The issues are real; the points were clear, and they were presented in a convicting yet not too heavy-handed approach.

Another intriguing advertising component was the noticeable absence of Nationwide. Prior to last year’s Super Bowl, Nationwide ran an effective campaign featuring Peyton Manning singing about chicken parmesan sandwiches (among other things) to the Nationwide jingle. But then, for some unexplainable reason, Nationwide ran arguably the worst commercial of all Super Bowl ads that featured a child killed in a preventable accident. Although it took a while, people forgot about the 2015 commercial, and the Peyton ads were back with a vengeance, helping the Nationwide jingle to become the epitome of good ads: an earworm. So why didn’t Nationwide continue this campaign for Super Bowl 50 when all eyes were on their respected spokesperson’s probable last game? This seems very odd. Can’t you just hear some of the song versions made especially for this memorable moment? This was a missed opportunity. Nationwide showed support for Peyton with a well-lit good luck message on its building in Columbus, Ohio (photo courtesy of professor Liz Malatestinic), but this has minor impact compared to what could have been.

One last point about advertisements during the Super Bowl. Some of the best opportunities can’t be bought. When the widely respected and beloved Peyton Manning says all he wants to do is kiss his wife and kids, and then drink his Budweiser, Budweiser executives were smiling ear to ear to the benefit of roughly $14 million! Contrary to society’s cynics, Peyton was not paid nor did he receive any type of compensation for this mention.

Super Bowl 50 was a success. The game was a good contest with the right team winning, IMHO, and we are still talking about the commercials. Football and marketing: What more could anyone want?