What Super Bowl Ads Can Teach Small Business

footballI admit, I really didn’t care who played or won yesterday’s Super Bowl (Go Bears!) instead I hope for an exciting game (which we got) and…..the commercials.

One thing that really interested me was the way the ads really reflected what’s going on in the U.S. right now.  Think about this:  how many ads did you see that were either movie trailers, NBC promo spots or NFL positioning spots?  A lot.  In fact it appears that the sports and entertainment industries were the only companies (aside of Coke) willing to pay a cool $3M per thirty-second spot (with an audience estimated at 92.3 million people, the captured audience is worth it). Out of the 62 primary ads 12 of them were for these industries.  I personally can’t remember seeing this many advertisements for the NFL, NBC and Hollywood during a Super Bowl.  It seems that the trend is escapism either at the movie theater or at home.

There were your usual players.  Strong brand names like Pepsi, Coke, Gatorade and Taco Bell, but I’m always struck by how well Budweiser uses the Super Bowl to brand, and I think it’s a good lesson for small businesses.  Of course everyone knows Budweiser.  It’s a company that’s been around for generations and while so many of their ads are product specific, the Super Bowl has, year after year, brought out a corporate branding campaign that is funny and touching.  The company’s ability to take another figure that it has branded, the Clydesdale, and personify it really pulls viewers into the ad and creates an emotional connection to the company.  In the last decade they are the spots we come to look forward to the most – how will they tell the story of the Clydesdale this year.  Last year it was Rocky in 2009 it was about heritage and immigration to the states trying to finds his way.  Whatever tactic they take Budweiser always does a top notch job of branding and communicating to the consumer.

One trend that I found interesting and is another lesson for small business was Kellogg and Pedigree’s choices to present a corporate responsibility campaign – building fields for children to play and encouraging adoption.  The latter I get because with the housing market, people foreclosing and having to move a lot have had to give up their pets.  Those pets are at shelters and adoption centers.  Really, it’s the crisis that no one is talking about, so I applaud them for putting it out their with humor and boldness.

Every small business can start a corporate responsibility program and communicate it.  These programs increase the way a consumer feels emotionally towards your business and forges an even deeper bond.  My corporate responsibility program is conducting pro bono PR work when I can and mostly to help raise funds for local organizations.   Some companies take on causes and everyone contributes, like breast cancer research, mentoring, feeding the homeless.  Never underestimate the power of community involvement not just on a business level, but a personal one as well.

Finally, when you have a company with a name that might be difficult to get right, it’s time to correct people.  Hyundai is such a company and I think they did a great job of explaining to people how to pronounce the company name correctly while also hitting the fact that it was voted #1 in America.  It was, in my belief, a very gentle way of educating people and branding their accomplishments – “Hyundai as in Sunday”.  As many in marketing will tell you, the name of your business should be both easy to pronounce and understand, otherwise it makes branding more difficult as consumers fail to latch on.   If you feel customers may not be identifying with you then take a lesson from Hyundai.

One last note:  we may cringe at the cost these companies spent on one thirty-second spot, but look at all of the PR they’re getting today and this week and they didn’t have to pay a PR firm to do any of it.  Think about that one.

Of course, I could go on, but I won’t.  These were the main things that really caught my attention.  Trends and I hope it provides a lesson to you on how important advertising campaigns really are, what they communicate and take note of what you can learn.

You can watch the ads at Hulu.com and I encourage you to do so.  On a personal note, I love Sprint’s “What if Roadies Ruled the World”.  Tell me what ads in this year’s Super Bowl you enjoyed most.

It was a pretty amazing game up to the last thirty seconds.  Congrats to the Steelers.

Jennifer Fortney, Cascade Communications


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