Learn a few new moves from the Big Dance

Yesterday was the ultimate dance for brand marketers. This was especially true if your specialty in marketing has to do with buidling brand awareness.

You get 30 seconds for a little under 3 million (plus or minus production) and the world is watching.

Traditionally, the funniest (read, most viral) ad generated the greatest number of impressions as well as day-after recall, and that equates to success. In the world of TV advertising, if you can prove impressions and recall, you can plug in conversion number to relate it to case sales, phone orders, etc.

This is not a direct marketing test. Some sites measured their Super Bowl ad investment with visitors to their web properties, but that was back in the halcyon days of the WWW when eyeballs were money.

Since it is the biggest audience, pricetag and critically reviewed set of marketing efforts; the biggest and brightest presumable play here. It would make sense that any marketer, even me, could learn a thing or two from the big guys and how they play on the ad world’s biggest stage.

I’ve read countless reviews of Super Bowl ads, watched them myself and even talked to a few of my contemporaries about their impressions. Overall, it was a weak year with little water cooler talk being generated. YouTube is a new place to measure the viral nature of TV commercials and the Super Bowl related activity is somewhat tepid.

My favorite ad was the Coke commercial (Coke Side of Life) where a thug is transformed into a Lovecat because of a bottle of Coke. The ad is inspring, engaging and uplifting. In a world where Dr Phil and Simon Cowell do mental and talent makeovers on people, Coke does it right in this animated ad. The brand promise of Coke (you will come over to our side of life when you drink this) fits the core lifestyle brand that they’ve been marketing since they taught the world to sing (at a time where we wanted the world to hold hands and sing). When you integrate a brand as a transformational artifact into the life of someone, you give the brand promise real life. Most importantly, the ad connects with the gestalt of the consumer by showing how one good thing leads to another, which then leads to another. The virtuous circle of helping others is part of our fabric right now, you can see it everywhere. Coke connected with it and won. Usually, a funny joke takes the prize during the Big Game, but inspiration won the day:

My second favorite brand ad was the Bud ad where the average dog is transformed into a Dalmation and gets to be part of a parade. Again, the brand taps into our psyche and tells us that anything is possible with a brand like Bud in the world. My poodle cried when he saw this ad, which counts for something. PS — notice how there is a subtle metaphor between riding in the parade and being at the Big Game (where tickets costs $3500.00 and only the priveledged human Dalmations get to sit in good seats). Nice tie in, Bud.

Silly, violent or physically disgusting ads were probably a waste of money including:
1. The retread commercial format where Fedex surprises another cast with instant death, except this time the whole world already knew it was coming.
2. The Bud Light commercial where slapping people in the face is cosidered funny.
3. The Snickers commercial showing two men kissing over a candy bar, then pulling out chest hairs to prove they are as homophobic as Mitt Romney. This is silly, offensive to many, and doesn’t have anything to do with the brand promise. One key point; spirits are a platform for laughs, beverages a platform for refreshment but food is a platform for satisfaction. Snickers should satisfy, not entertain — no brandwidth for this in the consumer psyche.

The rest of the slate is pretty much forgettable. But I learned something from Coke. Anything can be a spark to change our life, even a soda. Even the thug in the video game can be saved by Coke. It’s refreshing, it’s the real thing, come over to our side of life. PS — this ad has already been battle tested in theatres, where it has been playing successfully for a few months. That is another lesson altogether nows isn’t it!

USATODAY publishes an annual report card on the ads, and it usually measures novelty and comfort. The ads that are neither really new or really familiar always end up in the middle of the list. As a result, over the long haul, I’m not sure I think these ranking are relevant to the actual ad dollar value that the brand gets.

Recommended book: The End of Marketing As We Know It by Sergio Zyman (former Chief Marketing Officer of Coke). He makes the argument that any ad should add value at the point of buying or consuming a product. For example, a good Coke ad would promise that it refreshes and when you pop a top later and rehear the bubbles, you are reminded, refreshed and served by a good ad. Think about this and how it relates to the Super Bowl ads every year. Good ads are a service. When you learn this, you are learning something important about advertising and marketing acumen.