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Super Bowl Ads: Why (Most) Brands Missed The Mark

February 5, 2019

Aarya Sankaran Kumar

This year’s crop of Super Bowl ads can be summed up in one word: underwhelming. Despite spending a whopping $5.3 million for each 30-second spot, a number of brands missed the mark. The commercials maintained a neutral narrative, including robots and 1990’s pop culture, as opposed to truly relevant, memorable messages. In an effort to avoid any sort of controversy, it seemed as though advertisers were largely playing it too safe.

Purpose-led marketing

Given that eight out of 10 consumers prefer cause-driven brands, it’s more important than ever for brands to stand for something. In fact, belief-driven buyers now represent the majority among millennials, 71 percent of whom prefer to purchase from brands that push social and environmental change. As stated by Ryan Berman on the latest episode of the Marketing Mix Podcast, 80 percent of purchase decisions are made on emotion. “It comes down to being authentic, being values-oriented, finding your purpose and finding a point of view,” he says in respect to purpose-led marketing.

Fortunately, there were a couple of outlier companies that took the risk of imbuing their Super Bowl ad campaigns with greater purpose. Below are some of the strategies behind the standout ads.

Maintain Authenticity

Super Bowl Ads - Bumble

Female-centric dating app Bumble made its debut Super Bowl ad appearance with “In Her Court,” an ad starring tennis star Serena Williams. The commercial encourages women to make the first move in every aspect of their lives. “Don't wait to be given power, because here’s what they won’t tell you: We already have it,” Williams says. By using female empowerment to inform their advertising strategy, Bumble stayed true to its core values. In this way, Bumble leveraged the Super Bowl to authentically connect with consumers and solidify their brand identity.

Evoke Emotion

Super Bowl Ads - Microsoft

Evoking emotion within your consumers doesn’t need to be complicated, and it doesn’t need to involve celebrity endorsement. That said, with their “We All Win” commercial, Microsoft effectively tapped into this strategy with an uplifting ad that focuses on technology’s power to enhance and improve our everyday lives. The commercial showcases an adaptive video game controller, specially designed for disabled children. In this way, Microsoft found a heartfelt way to earn customer loyalty by humanizing their brand and creating a compelling narrative.

Take A Stand

Super Bowl Ads - Washington Post

With the release of their first-ever Super Bowl ad, the Washington Post took a bold political stance, featuring the paper’s slogan “Democracy dies in darkness.” The sixty-second spot, narrated by actor Tom Hanks, highlights the importance of the press and the dangers reporters often face. “The Super Bowl is a remarkable moment to recognize the courage and commitment of journalists around the world that is so essential to our democracy,” Fred Ryan, the newspaper’s publisher, said in a statement. By seizing the Super Bowl stage to take a stand, the Washington Post expertly set themselves apart from the competition.

Super Bowl Ads - Purpose-led marketing

In conclusion, by shying away from addressing societal and political issues, most brands missed a golden opportunity to connect with nearly 100 million consumers. In the end, the Super Bowl ads that leave people talking long after the big game ends are those that answer consumers’ resounding call for authenticity, diversity, and purpose. If there is one thing that all brands can take away from this year’s Super Bowl, it’s the importance of not being afraid to lead with purpose. Indeed, these are the marketing messages that count and, ultimately, win over the hearts of consumers.