The Best Advantage Super Bowl Ad Money Can’t Buy

While I’m not a football fan (gasp!), like so many others, I always look forward to the Super Bowl commercials. They’re not just entertaining; they also provide a fairly well-informed glimpse into the American psyche. After all, the brands that spend up to $5 million for a 30-second spot hire advertising agencies with the ability to understand consumer hopes, dreams, concerns, wants, needs and aspirations, then translate that understanding into compelling, motivating ads.

The companies behind the ads need to provide direction to inform creative strategy: how do they want to position their brand, what do they want their customers to feel, think and do. Increasingly, this means that traditional brands need to consider whether to take a stance on (sometimes) controversial social and cultural issues. This year, more brands than ever decided they would.

The shift toward taking a stand

Most of these 2017 Super Bowl ads seemed to take a stand in response to the frightening, threatening actions of America’s cheeto-in-chief. All spoke to broader social and cultural issues that have been on the minds of Americans for a while. Themes of inclusion, acceptance and diversity abounded, as did those of opportunity and potential. See for yourself:

This year’s ads represent the next generation of good-focused marketing. Looking back at the last 10 years or so of Super Bowl ads, a shift toward this good focus is readily apparent. It began with the cause marketing bandwagon and then continued with traditional companies jumping on the green marketing bandwagon. Sometimes the motivation behind these ads was to mitigate the potential harm done by a) the company when making the product or b) the consumer when using the product. Two spots that aired during the 2016 Super Bowl exemplifed this: Give a Damn (Budweiser) and Every Drop Counts (Colgate).

Other times, the underlying motivation was to garner goodwill by supporting causes near and dear to customers’ hearts. Regardless of intentions, if these ads got one person to donate to a worthy cause, reconsider driving drunk or temper water consumption, they did some good.

This year’s Super Bowl ads indicate that traditional brands may be shifting away from feel-good cause-marketing ads and ads touting brand / product sustainability attributes and toward bolder, controversial social commentary. In some cases, the movement is toward riskier issues advocacy.

The bottom line: big brands are using their significant reach (and budget) to take a position. And I suspect that’s a bandwagon on which more and more brands will jump.

The truly Purposeful brand’s not-so-secret weapon

Each business behind the 2017 Super Bowl ads had its own motivations for taking a stand. (Just Google “2017 Super Bowl commercials” and you’ll get all manner of speculation and statements about those reasons.) Some of them may have been a genuine desire to spark change and others may have been purely bottom-line driven calculated.

Either way, the good news is that when traditional brands spend massive sums of money to connect with consumers via social purpose (manufactured or not), that’s a strong signal that consumers value brands that act on social and cultural issues. With trust in brands at an all time low, traditional brands know they need to do something to engender trust. And fast.

The better news is that truly Purposeful companies have an edge, even if they don’t have $5+ million to spend on a Super Bowl ad. Here’s why:

Companies with social Purpose built in don’t have to fake it.

As consumers demand more responsibility from brands, it’s easier for companies to “goodwash” rather than change the way they do business. But Purposeful brands can withstand scrutiny and demonstrate authenticity in ways goodwashing brands never can.

Brands with Purpose in their DNA are able to deliver on their promise throughout the entire customer experience.

Some traditional businesses may be able to quickly mobilize campaigns in response to cultural shifts, but when customers actually experience a brand’s Purpose, they start to think of it as more than just an entity, excluding other brands and becoming open to a deeper relationship.

Businesses with social Purpose built in can authentically engage customers based on shared values.

While they have high expectations for companies to make positive change, consumers understand that they have a role to play as well. Inviting them to be partners in Purpose transforms relationships and amplifies positive social impact. (Click to Tweet)

So, while the multi-million dollar budgets may help large, traditional brands gain attention, brands that can authentically lead with Purpose can build more meaningful, long-lasting customer relationships on Purpose. And that’s where change really starts to happen.

Do you want to create a more Purposeful customer experience? Download our 9 tips to help you engage your customers with Purpose.

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Anne is partner + director of strategy at RoundPeg where she spends most of her time figuring out how to use marketing to help people make good choices. In her free time, she enjoys sampling obscure teas, reading dystopian fiction and spoiling her darling rescue dog, Molly. An impassioned communicator and people person, Anne enjoys bringing people together and offering advice to anyone who wants it [or doesn’t]. See more posts by Anne.
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