Superbowl ads propel brands into space – content marketing keeps them there

round-illustration-19 March 1st, 2017

There’s no shortage of advertisers willing to splurge huge budgets on Superbowl advertising, but without reinforcing their messages with content they risk wasting their money, says CMA Consultant Editor Dominic Mills

So, Superbowl LI is done and dusted. Hours of analysis and public debate assess the winners and the losers. At $5m for a 30-second spot – and perhaps the three quarters to the same amount spent on production – it’s not a game for the faint-hearted.

The list of those who take the plunge is like a roll-call of corporate America: P&G, Budweiser, Wendy’s, T-Mobile, Airbnb, and even digital giants like Google and Amazon.

But spending huge sums of money on TV without backing it up with additional content is like burning $100 notes. You get a thrill and a nice warm feeling, but it’s gone in 24 hours, perhaps less.

Advertisers have long realised this, and the days – such as the famous Apple 1984 Superbowl ad, which ran just once – when TV was the be-all and end-all of the Superbowl are, generally speaking, no more.

They have been replaced by myriad, multi-platform efforts in which content plays a critical role. The full tool-box at advertisers’ disposal is used: YouTube, Instagram, blogs, Facebook, PR, Twitter, real-time response and search. Research from Microsoft shows that, while TV ads drive search peaks during and immediately after the game, they can last for two or three days.

This year’s Superbowl differed from others in one major respect – there was a marked political tone to some ads, including those from Airbnb, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Audi and 84 Lumber – and two less controversial ones.

First, for most advertisers the Superbowl is just the tip of the iceberg of year-round marketing strategies, meaning they look for long-term themes, build on existing strategies or repurpose existing content.

Second, advertisers such as Mr Clean, Snickers and Avocados of Mexico are experimenting with new iterations including use of Instagram Stories, a Snapchat copy where posts are deleted after 24 hours and, in Snickers’ case, a 36-hour live stream – something that required tons of content.

Not all perfect

Ok, so most advertisers get the theory. But judging by some this year, they don’t all put it into practice, suggesting a wasted opportunity.

Airbnb, for example, took a punchy anti-Trump line with its ‘We Accept’ TV ad, promoting social inclusion and promising short-term housing for 100,000 refugees, disaster survivors and relief workers. The ad was heavily shared and provoked an outpouring of support on Facebook, but you’d imagine that some effort by Airbnb itself to provide additional content – users’ stories, examples of homeowners donating living space and do on (surely not that hard to generate) would have pushed the idea that extra mile.

Pretty much the same could be said of two other politicised ads. One was by building supplies company 84 Lumber, whose full TV ad, featuring a Mexican refugee and her daughter blocked by a wall and then finding a door in it (hmm, wonder what that was a reference to?) was deemed too edgy by broadcaster Fox to show in its entirety. Promoting its open-door hiring policy, it’s a great piece of film, but where were the personal stories of its refugee employees or others who made the cross-border trek in search of a better future?

The other was Budweiser parent Anheuser-Busch, which chose to highlight the story of co-founder Augustus Busch, an immigrant from Germany who meets troubles and hostility along the way. The ad, a year in the making, took an added piquancy coming as it did days after President Trump’s comments about immigration. It may have been the most shared Superbowl ad, with a link the Bud homepage but it left me wanting more.

Getting it right

If Anheuser-Busch scored less than 10/10 on its main brand, it did much better with Bud Light, for which it chose a non-political theme, opting instead to combine celebrations of friendship with a ‘golden can’ competition. This centred on social, with user-generated content on Facebook, Instagram Stories and Twitter. Anybody finding a golden can could post pictures of it on social media and earn the chance to win Superbowl tickets for life. The result: multiple interactions and, unlike Bud, no negative feedback either.

Audi’s ‘Daughter’ ad had a social, rather than a political purpose, which was to promote gender pay equality.  It compared its own technical progress with auto engineering with the lack of progress in pay equality. In response, users from all round the world posted images to Instagram and Twitter. Audi itself signed the White House Equal Pay Pledge, committed to ensuring half its graduate intake were women and that it would fund a scholarship for a female film director.

If all that was at the serious, purposeful end of the brand spectrum, P&G’s Mr Clean icon, a bald, white-suited, faux sexy older bloke, took an altogether more light-hearted approach, live-tweeting quick-witted responses to other Superbowl ads, including Honda, Skittles and fellow P&G brand Tide.

But the prize for a content extravaganza must surely go to Snickers and its 36-hour Facebook live stream show before the game, designed to build interest in the broadcasting of its ‘live’ (well, only pretend ‘live’) TV ad. Now 36 hours is a lot to fill, and Snickers stuffed it full of vignettes – 50 in total — such as the casting of a horse for the TV ad, re-runs of old Snickers Superbowl ad, interviews, bean-counting and, yes, tumbleweed.

And the live ad itself? Well, it was a fake disaster because the cast was hungry, as in a twist on the established “You’re not you when you’re hungry”.

So there you have it. Superbowl ads that didn’t maximise on content marketing fell quickly back to earth, those that used content to extend the reach and the moment flew steadily on into space.

Dominic Mills, Consultant Editor, The CMA

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