Every year, over 100 million people gather around to watch the Super Bowl with friends and family. With that many viewers tuned into the same channel, advertisers fight what could be described as a battle of epic proportions; only instead of being armed with swords and shields, marketers and communication professionals have brand purpose and celebrity endorsements as their weapons of choice. Notably so, when a single 30-second slot costs upwards of $5 million, blood, sweat and tears are to be expected.
As brand-builders who believe in the power of purpose, we wanted to take the opportunity to analyze some of our favorite ads from this year’s Super Bowl. In the past, we’ve seen brands move away from objectified bikini-clad women to subtle political and purpose-packed social messages; but this year, advertisers seems to be moving to a more ‘play it safe’ approach. One of the reasons for this shift may have to do with the already tense atmosphere around the NFL. With players taking a knee to fight against racial injustices like Nike’s Colin Kaepernick, the Super Bowl just isn’t the same safe, idyllic event it once was. Just deciding whether or not to run a Super Bowl commercial is turning into a political decision in itself – seen a Nike ad anyone?
Another reason why brands are shying away may be rooted in the signal of the act itself. If a brand truly wants to change the world, is spending $5 million dollars on a 30-second message really the most efficient way to help solve problems such as global warming or world hunger? This brings us back to the purpose for profits dilemma; and this season, The Washington Post may have learned this the hard way. With a phenomenally well-constructed ad narrated by none other than Tom Hanks himself, the message concentrates on the importance of free press and pays tribute to the journalists whose lives were lost. While some loved the Democracy Dies in Darkness ad, others – like Post journalist Sarah Kaplan – were quick to point out that the money spent on the ad could have been used towards “better health benefits, parental leave, equal pay and more jobs for reporters”. Whether you loved it or hated it, one thing is for sure – the public expects brands to put their money where their mouth is.
One of our favorite ads this year by Bumble featuring Serena Williams made sure to do exactly that. On a day where messages have predominately been targeted towards men – except for a laundry detergent commercial or two – Bumble took the opportunity to speak to the growing number of women in the audience with a message of female empowerment. What made this ad truly unique and successful was that this message was not an attempt to ride the #metoo wave, but something deeply embedded in the brand and the product itself, where women make the first move. Plus, Bumble didn’t stop there. Everything from the music to Serena and the predominantly female team who created the ad were rooted in Bumble’s purpose. When a brand stays so true to its soul the risk of criticism is evidently smaller.
Another brand stood out for us this year with no celebrity endorsements – just real people, real messages and real happiness without all the expensive bells and whistles. It’s hard enough to swallow the price tag for a Super Bowl slot, but when the message is used to genuinely spread smiles and inclusion, it’s harder not to love. Microsoft’s ad focusing on their Adaptive Controller for Xbox One did just that.
Here at Caliber, we get the opportunity to sift through mounds of perception data and run regressions to identify what exactly drives people’s affection for companies and brands. Looking at the Microsoft commercial, we uncover a synergy within the drivers. Many brands identify ‘Innovation’ to be the single most important factor, but ‘Integrity’ is almost twice as influential to a company’s reputation. The genius of the Microsoft commercial is that it hits both these reputation drivers right on the head. The ad isn’t just a message of inclusion or innovation, but innovation that is made to boost inclusion itself. For that, hats off to you, Microsoft.
So if someone gave you $5 million to share whatever message with the world, what would that be? Selfish personal promotion, a way to change the world, or just something that simply spreads joy and laughter? Other than the obvious need to use good creative and compelling story-telling, our advice is simple: stay true to what your company stands for and what your brand offers – and you’re likely to come out winning.