This post originally ran on The Page Turner blog.
The Super Bowl has become, well, the Super Bowl for marketing and brand professionals.
As more companies embrace purpose and bring it to the masses through advertising, the Super Bowl provides a huge but increasingly risky global stage. Super Bowl LII saw more fumbles than scores by brands, and a brief analysis of the ideas and initiatives behind the commercials resulted in the following insights.
1. Earn the accolades
There's unsurprising backlash around Ram trucks using the words of Dr. King. We believe one reason is that the words aren't backed by deeds -- just Ram branding. One internet citizen took the liberty of dubbing another section of Dr. King’s speech over the same commercial, and the result is eye-opening.
The spot might have better received if it were the natural outgrowth of existing programs, such as:
Strong diversity practices internally at Fiat Chrysler
A deep, long-term relationship with The King Center, the NAACP, and other organizations that advance Dr. King's vision -- for example, executive board service, grants, shared programming
Authentic and visible employee volunteer service, ideally matched by programs that encourage Ram owners to serve
2. Make the connection authentic
While less controversial than the Ram spot, a few companies spotlighted issues without making it clear how they are authentically connected in an enduring, multi-dimensional way. Toyota, T-Mobile and Kraft all sent a positive message. It would have been stronger to see that message backed by actions and information about what they are they doing to address inclusion during the other 364 days a year.
Verizon has a potentially interesting shared value story to tell about first responders, yet its CR report says it focuses on education, sustainability, and domestic violence. If emergency and disaster preparedness and response were part of this ongoing focus, its ad would have carried more weight.
In contrast, Toyota's focus on mobility seems far more authentic, and aligned with the core business in a more obvious way. Similarly, Budweiser and Stella Artois chose to showcase deeds, not just ideals. That can go a long way toward building trust, when it's in particularly short supply.
3. Leverage your assets
Companies increasingly are connecting the dots between their brands and assets. In the Super Bowl, examples included P&G linking its brands in a series of "Tide ads," and PepsiCo linking Doritos and Mountain Dew. That's smart not only in advertising, but in strategy to give purpose programs even more lift.
Some organizations used the asset of a Super Bowl ad to communicate something about their purpose. Kudos to Hyundai for using this platform to thank customers and connect to the childhood cancer cause. We would have loved to see an additional consumer call to action, as they recently up-leveled the online presence for "Hope on Wheels." After all, it will take many voices to address this complex issue -- not only companies like Hyundai and Aflac*, but millions of individuals nationwide.
4. Think like the whole audience
Just because you don't see it, doesn't mean it's not there. Consider how your message might by viewed across:
Political views: WeatherTech's ad got applause from Breitbart, and may have turned off others who saw an allusion to building a border wall.
Geographies: Did Ram's second ad insult Minnesota? We haven't seen much national press coverage of that, but it's making news in the Twin Cities.
Socio-economic class: And then there was that Mercedes-Benz ad answering the question "what do you get" with "you get out of the way" -- as a pedestrian runs across the street to avoid being hit. That's not so amusing if you know that every hour, cars send 15 pedestrians to the E.R. (causing one death every 90 minutes), and luxury car owners are more likely to hit pedestrians.)
This year, we saw more brands saying that they aim to do more than sell product. A handful did so authentically, most could not back up their words with actions, and some completely missed. But it’s clear that advertising is becoming more intentional in how causes, social issues, and purpose are communicated. We hope that brands keep these insights in mind next year, so that every company can win – not just for themselves, but for society.
*Aflac is a CCOP client. Learn more about our work with them here.