Connection: The Glue that Makes Super Bowl (& All) Ads Stick


Patti Renner, VP Marketing North America at IgnitionOne takes a look at Winners and Losers in the Super Bowl Ad Contest. You Might Be Surprised! Big views don’t mean big conncections.

For marketing in this Age of the Customer, it’s not about what you sell – it’s about who you serve. So on Super Bowl Sunday, major brands spent millions of dollars, serving up a diverse parade of marketing entertainment between the battles on the football field. With so many calling winners and losers on this topic, let’s evaluate based on what’s most important for brand marketing: Connection.

Connection is the foundation of strong messaging. Be it a cross-channel experience that targets (or retargets) consumers based on expressed/likely interest, the core of an effective marketing effort is the ability to connect (mentally, emotionally and visually) with the ideal audience in a meaningful way at the optimum moment.
On one hand, Super Bowl ads are the granddaddy of building brand awareness. Consider how Apple revolutionized the computer market with just one spectacular ad to introduce Macintosh.

We all know those non-sports fans, people who only watch the game for the ads, which elevates brands (and in some cases their creative agencies) to near celebrity status. But does creativity alone make for an effective Super Bowl spot or should more weight be placed on the ability of the brand to connect (there’s that word again) in a way influences the right people to respond? To better understand the value of connection, let’s look at the trends.
One concept highlighted in our recent report “16 for ’16: The 16 Top Trends to Impact Marketers in 2016” is “Marketing Personification.” This means that marketing is increasingly personal. People are becoming more and more individualistic, embracing (and rejecting) brand images as part of their statement of self. Tribal loyalty is alive and well. While it’s valuable to think of campaigns in terms of audiences, the reality is that the messaging needs to be tailored to the individuals who make up those audiences and engage them on an emotional level.

Marketing isn’t about pushing brand – it’s about connecting with every single individual within your ideal audiences and inspiring them into thought and/or action. As your customers voluntarily reveal more about themselves, captured with marketing hub technologies, POS/CRM systems and through platforms like Facebook and Twitter, they expect to see those details and preferences utilized in the campaigns and ads served up to them online – and even on television – with relevance and messaging that speaks to them even when not targeting them directly. The ability of marketers to connect consumer data and interest scores with channels and meaningful moments of engagement opens up opportunities for deeper connection.

It’s about intimacy. With this in mind, my favorite ads are those that reflect the wants, needs and desires of the people they’re trying to connect with (and sell to). Here are my Top 3 for the Connects and Disconnects of the 2016 Super Bowl ads.

The Best to Connect

Those in this category excelled at engaging their audiences in a meaningful way, connecting them with the right combination of image, emotion and calls to action to influence and encourage a positive next step in their customer journey.

Jeep: 4x4ever Jeep has always had a tribe when it comes to its fans and drivers, from special events to customization clubs and even the “Jeep wave,” like the handshake of a secret society. This spot epitomizes what it means to be a Jeep owner. It’s not about the features or the gas mileage – it’s the experience. This one nailed it.

Michelob ULTRA: Breathe From yoga class to lifting practice, most coaches advise that it is the breath that connects us, powering us toward our goals. Michelob ULTRA taps into that universal point highlighting breath as it connects athletes of all types, celebrating their hard work and focused performance. Not only does it speak directly to the athletic and actives, it also makes an emotional connection in a surprisingly appropriate balance between beer, health and accomplishment.

Mini Cooper: DefyLabels Authenticity at its best. For those who drive Minis who tend to be mold-breakers, this mosaic of broken stereotypes is just the ticket. As tempting as is may have been to talk about how fun the cars are to drive, how unique they are, yada-yada, the message stays true to its intended audience and the personification of the brand. Well done.

Lost the Connection

The losers of Super Bowl 50 ads were those that missed the mark when it came to connecting with their core audiences in a meaningful, relevant way. Perhaps they wanted to make a statement or share a something important to “advancing brand strategy” instead of taking the opportunity to create something truly memorable and meaningful for their base. In other words, big spend to amplify a message that lacks connectivity, empathy and usefulness.

Budweiser: #NotBackingDown Such a disappointment. In what appeared to be more of a manifesto against the competition, the ad missed the opportunity to remind people why they should choose Bud over the growing numbers of options out there. Instead of reinforcing the positive emotions of their legacy brand, they came across as whiny and bitter as they battle against imports, craft brewers and hobbyists.

Much like Jeep, there is a pride and a culture that could be developed around those loyal to Budweiser – even the chance to create a counter-culture of individualists who want to go “old school” and drink “normal” beer again. An old man at a bar flicking off a piece of fruit from his glass was about as close as it got to connecting with what the Budweiser audiences may want. Major fail, which is sad because I had such high expectations.

PayPal: There’s a New Money in Town
While an effort may have been made to connect the PayPal brand with the online entrepreneur, this spot lacks the substance to do so. Bad storytelling is supported with strong graphics and images that they suggest people should reject (like Ben Franklin’s $100 face), when it’s actually what everybody wants.

While it seems some effort is being made to create a “new money tribe” with this, it fails to capture any compelling reason to choose PayPal. It also fails to engage directly with people on an individual level, what they worry about, need or find important when it comes to running a business. So many good reasons and good stories exist to propel the PayPal brand. This wasn’t any of those.

Mountain Dew Kickstart: Puppy Monkey Baby So bad, but actually good (an appropriate hybrid)… A hot mess I can’t get out of my head, but perhaps that’s the point. For the audience it seeks to connect with, this may be a winner. For the rest of us it’s like a visual earworm I can’t unsee.

Other Observations

Unlike years past, most of the ads were highly entertaining. Of note was an increasing use of story to explain value, making them more memorable and emotionally engaging. Few solely focused on product alone, but instead shared how that feature might be valuable in specific situations (Hyundai “First Date” ). Also missing were complex calls to action pushing people to text, visit or download in the moment for deeper experience or reward.

Aside from a few social hash tags and online invitations for details, advertisers were not as demanding on audiences as years past. Lastly, two of my favorite brands missed the mark this year – Coca Cola and Budweiser. While in the past their ads were like a warm blanket of comfort, this year they did not connect with the same degree of emotional depth and memorability as they have historically. Sometimes a good ad isn’t good enough when expectations are as high as they are with Super Bowl campaigns.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here