Nigel's primer for would-be Super Bowl advertisers

Super Bowl 2022. It is at times like these that I must remind myself of two things. First, I am not like most people (Stuart, I am not being elitist, just observing a fact). Second, many marketers have no real idea what makes a good TV ad (maybe they have spent too much time on Twitter). So, here are my recommendations for would-be Super Bowl advertisers. 

More than celebrities and facile humor
Yes, pandemic and all that, but it takes more than celebrities and facile humor to endear people to a brand and boost sales. I have seen a lot of rankings and opinion as to which Super Bowl ad was the best one, but most seem to miss the point. It is not whether people enjoy the ad in the moment, it is whether the moment is compelling and coherent enough that people will remember the brand impression a week, month, or a year later. When it comes to effectiveness, it does not matter whether the audience remember the ad, it is whether they remember something about the brand.

So, with those thoughts in mind, here is my primer on the basics of video advertising effectiveness.

Earn people's attention
No matter where people are watching the Super Bowl there are going to be a ton of distractions. If people are still watching the screen, you must earn their attention, or they will switch to doing something else (or in the case of online or mobile, skip to doing something else). And then you must follow through and hold their attention to deliver the complete impression.

Squarespace's "Sally's Seashells" delivered a coherent flow of scenes, with catchy rhyming and music to stitch them together. In her Adweek review Shannon Miller raves,

"There is so much to enjoy about this in-house effort. Directed by film luminary Edgar Wright, "Sally's Seashells" soars with sharp copywriting, delightful choreography and, of course, Emmy-winning actress Zendaya. It's totally charming, and the Andre 3000 kicker at the end elevates it from great to phenomenal. Thoroughly enjoyable."

Just so. But will it be remembered as an ad for Squarespace? Maybe the alliteration will carry the day.

By contrast, I wonder whether "Don't Miss Out" for FTX achieved that goal? I think my mind wandered after Larry David dismissed yet another big idea.

Make sure your brand is the focus of attention
So you want your brand to be famous, that is why you are advertising on the Super Bowl after all. But to be famous people must remember who you are. Will any normal viewer remember Dr. EV-il had taken over GM? Let's face it, GM is not top of mind when it comes to EVs right now, and it takes more than a logo shot and a name check ensure positive impressions are linked to your brand. And I am sure many loved Kia's robot dog, but when the dog is the center of attention no one is going to give the EV a second glance.

There is no evidence that putting a brand in the forefront of the action will undermine people's willingness to pay attention or respond positively to an ad. Make sure people recognize and remember your brand. Kudos to Doritos for getting their brand front and center.

Make sure the ad delivers the right impression

So you want to be famous. But I would suggest that the strongest brands are famous for something. I've seen several reviews pointing to Uber Eats as being one of the best Super Bowl ads. It is certainly well-branded, but will people remember the "more than food" message, or will they remember gagging at the idea of eating aluminum foil or a diaper? The video's explicit communication was clear, but I am not so sure about the implicit communication. Oh yes, and Alexa really is trying to read your mind. Yes, it is. Machine learning, you know.

Questions to ask if you want your ad to be effective
So, if you are going to join the ranks of the advertisers willing to drop $6.6 million for 30 seconds of fame, and you want more than a self-indulgent puff piece, maybe sit down, and ask yourself the following questions about the storyboard.

(In reality, these questions are relevant for any advertiser. With the media environment being as fragmented as it is, advertisers need to act as if the current exposure will be the only exposure. And if you only have one shot, you better make the most of it.)

1) Will the video earn people's attention?
Remember, your agency and you spent hours thinking about the details, but no one else will, least of all distracted party goers. Ask yourself, will the content take the viewer on an journey with which they want to follow along? Are people going to be enthused, inspired, entertained, intrigued, or amused by what is shown and said? Twists and turns in the narrative are fine, so long as people care enough to stick with it (but be careful they do not get thrown off track). And on that point, keep a close eye on the editing process to make sure it enhances the story rather than losing it.

2) Does the flow of content draw attention to the brand or away from it?
Is your brand going to be instantly recognizable to the unmotivated viewer? If not, figure out how to give it more time in the limelight. And the brand should be the focus of attention, not just a side act. If you can easily describe what happens in the ad without referring to your brand by name, that is a red flag. No brand, no effect.

3) What impression will stick to the brand?
You know what the ad is meant to say, but will the unmotivated audience take away the desired brand impression? Note that I said impression. It is rare that a video ad can communicate more than a general impression of a brand. Leave multiple messages to your performance ads. And is there an unspoken subtext that you might be ignoring? Do not inadvertently send the wrong message.

4) Will people be motivated by that impression?
Rarely do video ads get people to act immediately. (The Coinbase floating QR code is an exception to the general rule. But then, free cash giveaways never fail to motivate.) For most brands, most people will not be ready to think about the brand (never mind buy it) at the time of viewing. So whatever impression your ads deliver needs to be a) memorable, b) motivating (from the Latin "movere," to move, set in motion). And if you have not figured out how the impression helps move people toward buying your brand by now, shame on you. This is where you should start your ad development, not finish it.

But what do you think? Which Super Bowl 2022 ad would you nominate as best in class? What would you suggest to would-be Super Bowl advertisers? Please share your thoughts. 



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August 13, 2022

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