Will this Year’s Super Bowl Ads Score Big or Fall Flat?


It is the time of year when champions are crowned in the world of professional football. There’s the actual football game of course – but I am speaking of the commercials which air during the game. At $4,000,000.00 per :30 second spot, the pressure for marketers to produce a ‘winning’ commercial can be greater than that felt by those coaching and playing in the game itself.  There is a belief that a successful Super Bowl commercial can guarantee a brand’s success.

In reality the only true guarantee is that the ‘big game’ will deliver tremendous reach – as the broadcast will be seen by nearly 110 million viewers. In simple terms, reach provides the opportunity for awareness. Ad awareness is great – brand awareness is essential. Without mega advertising budgets such as those of companies like Pepsi and AB InBev, there will not be significant frequency – a key part of creating effective brand awareness.

Advertisers and their creative teams have been working countless hours to produce the best spot possible in this high risk world of Super Bowl advertising. An adorable puppy will befriend a Clydesdale. Male body builders – including spokesperson Danica Patrick – will attempt to lure you to their internet domain site. It is hoped that the story of a father looking out for his son through the years will move you to buy a car. The 25 year reunion of child sitcom actors features them pitching yogurt. All of these advertisers are hoping to win the ‘viewers favorite’ ad award and ‘blow-up’ Twitter – ok, all of social media. The ultimate goal of course is to entice consumers to purchase their product.

So the question becomes can advertising in the Super Bowl create a fearless brand? The simple answer is no. However, in rare instances a spot in the Super Bowl can become the tipping point in the messaging of a fearless brand. It takes a fearless brand to take full advantage of the powerful and unique advertising platform which is the Super Bowl. Without a doubt, the greatest example of this is a spot which aired thirty years ago in Super Bowl XVIII. It is because of that ad and the subsequent 30 years of that company’s success that this Friday’s Fearless Brand is Apple. The ad which introduced us to Apple Macintosh computer, titled 1984 is an iconic commercial to this day.

Fearless brands communicate their value by effectively converting their intangibles into effective brand messaging.

Apple’s 1984 commercial (view it here) was inspired by George Orwell’s book also titled 1984. Published in 1949, it painted a picture of a society without choice or free-thinking and controlled by ‘Big Brother’.

For Apple’s ad, ‘Big Brother’ represented computing as everyone knew it at that time. One platform. One technology. One choice. Apple’s use of black and white photography with the only color being the ‘heroine’ – coupled with a sixty second ad format – created immediate differentiation from all other advertisements. Apple’s spot featured a female athlete, chased by security, running to shatter Big Brother’s message by launching a hammer and shattering the screen. The explosion clears to feature the Apple logo with the message – “On January 24th Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you will see why 1984 won’t be like “1984”.

The spot was brilliant. It took full advantage of the reach delivered by the Super Bowl audience. The commercial’s story was so unique and so different that reactions ranged from intrigued and interested to confused and bewildered. The ad left a nation wondering what exactly was being to be introduced in two days….what was a Macintosh? Whether people realized it was a computer featuring ground breaking technology or were clueless everyone’s curiosity was piqued.

Brand awareness immediately skyrocketed as the colorful Apple logo and the simple – seemingly incongruous brand name stood out in their simplicity and uniqueness. Thirty years later Apple is still recognized for its innovative  products and technology leadership.

The commercial did not make Apple a fearless brand – Apple was a fearless brand which created the perfect message for its product introduction. They knew their why. They had a vision. Their value proposition was strong and passionate and relevant.

That is what today’s Super Bowl advertisers need to embrace. That is where they need to put their focus before creating any commercials. A highly entertaining spot will not by itself prove effective. If the brand and its value proposition are lost on the viewers the money spent on production and media is severely diminished.

I look forward to the ads nearly as much as the game itself. It will be interesting to see how advertisers attempt to position their brands. It will also be interesting to see if there is a new Apple spot introduced to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the company and of one of the most powerful Super Bowl ads ever.

Whether Apple chooses to run an ad this weekend is yet to be seen. However, they will always be the model of using the Super Bowl’s high profile advertising platform to effectively establish and communicate a fearless brand.

Friday's Fearless Brand

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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