A few months after last season’s Super Bowl, I was listening to two anchors banter on my favorite business news network. The topic turned to best Super Bowl ads, which led both to agree that they loved “the one with the blue pill.” Then one of the anchors, who happens to be the network’s car guru, commented that the commercial must have done well for its advertiser, Viagra. With a snicker and smile, the other anchor quickly corrected her colleague: “That ad was for Fiat.”
While you’d think that a newsman who covers cars for a living would remember a very well-traveled automobile ad, it’s not fair to criticize her given that most of us have made similar mistakes trying to recall commercials. Instead, advertisers should understand why, even at the Super Bowl -- the pinnacle of promotion -- this communication fail often occurs: People remember and like an ad but can’t recall the product or company responsible.
Of course, such a lapse in learning is a huge problem for advertisers. Short of viewers somehow subconsciously storing relevant brand information, how can an organization benefit from a commercial if people don’t remember who or what it was for? At the same time, there also are important issues at stake concerning the ads’ social impact, such as the images imprinted on the minds of young viewers.
For these reasons, I believe many advertisers are asking the wrong questions about Super Bowl ads. Sure, it’s fine for individuals to inquire of each other “Did you like that commercial?” and “Which ad was your favorite?” Those are fun conversations to have during and after the Super Bowl. However, if those are the questions advertisers are asking, as some seem to be, they are selling themselves and our society seriously short.
The AIDA model, a staple of marketing, easily explains the first deficiency. A funny and entertaining ad, like Fiat’s “blue pill,” grabs viewers’ attention out of the gate with alluring music and a woman lying seductively on a bed. The ad also keeps people’s interest by making them wonder what will happen to the pill and to the couple. However, if people don’t remember the specific car (500X) or its maker, or if they don’t even remember that the ad was for an automobile, they can’t desire a test drive or take the action that Fiat ultimately wants --purchase of the vehicle. Some might question the ad’s use of humorous-yet-heavy sexual innuendo.
So, if “did you like the ad” and “which was your favorite” are wrong questions for advertisers to ask, what are the right ones? Two statistics from the most recent Super Bowl serve as clues:
The first statistics is $4.5 Million, the cost to air a 30 second spot during last year’s sports spectacle. Any advertiser shelling out that kind of cash for a half-minute of airtime that’s here and gone in a little more than an instant, should want to know if the ad works, i.e., "Will it move my target market from attention and interest to desire and action?'' The first critical question advertisers should ask is: Is the ad effective?
The second statistic is 114.4 million people, which is the record-setting size of the U.S. viewing audience for the game last year. Of course, that many consumers are one of the main reasons Super Bowl is a potentially valuable media purchase. Such a large and demographically diverse audience, however, also should raise issues of social impact: Are the ads fair, honest, decent and respectful? Do the messages suggest good stewardship of resources? If ads do not live up to those standards, it’s right to be concerned how the commercials might influence people beyond their product preferences. So, the second important question is, is the ad ethical?
The two questions advertisers should be asking about their ads -- “are they effective” and “are they ethical” -- aren’t new. For some reason, however, they’re often forgotten, perhaps because of the appeal of entertaining and winning awards. A simple tool that might help advertisers refocus on what really matters is the Mindful Matrix. At a glance, this model illuminates the intersection of efficacy and ethicality as it forms the following four categories:
- Mindless Marketing: not effective or ethical.
- Simple-Minded Marketing: ethical but not effective.
- Single-Minded Marketing: effective but not ethical.
- Mindful Marketing: effective and ethical.
Yes, it’s fine to ask others which ads people like. However, as you watch the Super Bowl this year, ask how likely each ad is to: 1) serve as effective marketing communication for the advertiser and its target market, and 2) uphold societal values like decency, fairness, honesty, respect and stewardship. Hopefully, more advertisers will act upon these questions, making for mindful Super Bowl ads.