What You Can Learn from Super Bowl Ads

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Whether it's a new jingle, laugh-out-loud humor or shock value, some of the most powerful brands invest millions of dollars each winter to get their marketing messages in front of consumers during the most important NFL game of the year -- the Super Bowl. Hands down, the big football championship is by far the most-watched single-telecast in the U.S. each year.

And while small businesses may not have enough marketing dollars to compete on a Super Bowl-caliber advertising scale, there are lessons to learn and mistakes to avoid when examining these commercials.

Here are a handful of the most memorable Super Bowl ads, along with important takeaways to consider for your own marketing and advertising strategies.

 

Company: Apple
Commercial: 1984 
Year: 1984
Description: In a nod to George Orwell's novel, 1984, this Ridley Scott-directed commercial introduced the country to the Macintosh personal computer. Apple positioned its Macintosh "revolution" with the copy, "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh, and you will see why 1984 won't be like 1984."
Why it works: It stirs emotions, makes an exciting and positive promise of the future, and uses a well-known and well-placed literary reference. It's genius.
Takeaway: The right message, at the right time, in the right place, and to the right audience can't fail. If you know your product is great, go big -- or go home.

 

Company: Wendy's
Commercial: Where's the Beef?
Year: 1984
Description: At the fictitious "Home of the Big Bun" restaurant, three grandmotherly women surround a hamburger that has an unreasonably large bun with a tiny meat patty. One of the women repeatedly asks, "Where's the beef?" A voice over explains that Wendy's hamburgers are larger than its rivals.
Why it works: Tasteful humor coupled with a bit of the unexpected almost always equals advertising gold.
Takeaway: Comparison advertising can be dangerous territory, but a clever approach can position your brand effectively against market leaders.

 

Company: Monster.com
Commercial: When I Grow Up 
Year: 1999
Description: In a series of short clips, children describe what they want to be when they grow up, saying, "I want to be a 'yes man,'" and "I want to have a brown nose." The ad closes with the Monster.com logo and tagline, "There's a better job out there."
Why it works: This ad makes people think there are other, better options just a few mouse clicks away. Change is possible thanks to Monster.com, and hope is reborn.
Takeaway: Combine emotional involvement with a message that clearly communicates "What's in it for me?"

 

Company: E*TRADE
Commercial: Trading Baby 
Year: 2008
Description: A talking baby sits at a computer and describes how easy it is to purchase stocks through Etrade.com. After a click of the mouse, the baby says, "I just bought stock. You just saw me buy stock. No big deal. I mean, if I can do it, you can do it." Then the baby spits up on himself.
Why it works: First, the ad uses the old standby of delivering shock value when the baby spits up. Stock trading can be a confusing and overwhelming activity, but this ad communicated the message that anyone can do it.
Takeaway: People respond positively to babies. This ad used a tried-and-true advertising trick (the baby) and paired it with a clear, concise and effective message. Wrap it up with a bit of shock value and it will get people talking.

 

Company: McDonald's
Commercial: Big Mac Song 
Year: 1975
Description: McDonald's customers attempt to sing the Big Mac ingredients jingle with varied levels of success.
Why it works: It's a catchy tongue-twister with a description of the ingredients in what was McDonald's biggest hamburger. It also showed customers from an array of demographic profiles to demonstrate everyone loves McDonald's, and the Big Mac.
Takeaway: A catchy song can build recognition through the word-of-mouth marketing value it delivers. Although, in today's environment, consumers typically want to know more about how a business can solve their problems before they make a purchase. 


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