Long Live The King Of Beers & Other Super Bowl Thoughts

Come for the game, stay for the commercials.

The game was an unexpected blowout. With the score 28-3 in favor of the Falcons, the there was little doubt over the outcome. The broadcasters told us several times that no team in NFL history had ever overcome more than a 10 point deficit in the Super Bowl.  Had this been any other game, even a playoff, I would likely have turned off the TV and moved on.

But this was the Super Bowl, and like millions of others, I tuned in more for the ads than the game. In fact, I had assigned my USC grad students to watch all the ads be prepared to talk about them in this week’s class. So there I was, filling in a spreadsheet as the ads came on, rating each spot on a scale from one to five for the following attributes:

– Is the ad on strategy and true to brand ideal?

– Is it creative and memorable? Does it stand out?

– Will it change minds or influence purchase?

It was also very Millennial of me to have my iPad out to follow #superbowlads on Twitter. Interesting how I paid attention to the deluge of relevant tweets much the same way our president watches the news and people scroll through their Facebook feeds. That is, once I made up my mind whether or not I liked a given spot, I only paid attention to the tweets supporting my view. Made me wonder why I was bothering in the first place.

Nevertheless, the name of the event should be changed to the Advertising Bowl, or better yet, the Unity Bowl, and shifted to a Monday, which in turn should be declared a national holiday by Congress. It’s the one day when all Americans truly come together as one. Blue states and red states don’t matter. It may be impossible to get Trump and Clinton voters in the same room without causing a major flak, but fans of opposing teams seem to get along fine when they gather for parties, food, fun, and in no small part, the chance to watch Super Bowl ads with each other.

Sure, they play a game of football. This one may have been historic and likely to be remembered, but so many of them are boring and inconsequential. Even the day after a great Super Bowl game, the water cooler talk focuses on the ads and the parties as much as or possibly more than the football.

The Last Shared Experience

There are all kinds of quantitative evidence supporting the premise that Super Bowl ads are not worth the investment. If I were a CMO, I’m not sure that I could ever justify the huge expense. Not just the $5 million for 30 seconds of time, but the cost of the over-the-top production needed to stand out and the additional human and financial resources dedicated to promoting the spot. At those prices, the stakes are high.

However, if I were tasked to convince my CEO that a Super Bowl ad was a good idea for the brand, I’d start with a focus on the obvious. First, I’d liken the buy to my Las Vegas black jack strategy, which is to set a budget and be prepared to lose it all. It’s a gamble and there are no guarantees. So if I lose my $200 at the tables, or in the case of a Super Bowl advertiser, $10 to $30 million or more goes down the drain if our ad bombs, we must make sure that we’ll still be in strong position for life to go on as normal. Brands like Budweiser can easily afford this. Company’s like King’s Hawaiian Bread cannot.

Next, the usual arguments, that you’re buying more than a 30-second spot. If your ad connects (and it’s a big “if,”) the Super Bowl provides a huge multiplier effect. People will watch online before and after the spot airs, and traditional public relations and social can create a huge buzz about both ad and brand.

To that last point, we must understand that the Super Bowl is truly the last shared experience we have. In the early days of television, the whole family might gather round the one set in the house to watch Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan or Bonanza. That just doesn’t happen anymore. TV ratings are down across the board.

Except for the Super Bowl. According to Nielsen, this year’s game was viewed by over 111 million people. That’s nearly twice the number of people who watched the final games of the World Series, NBA Finals, NHL Stanley Cup and the Daytona 500 combined.

This staggering statistic is important to me for qualitative reasons. The experience of 111 million people watching a commercial in real time, among friends and family in close physical proximity and connected to the rest of their tribes digitally is profound. It makes the highs higher and lows lower. Like watching a movie in a theater as compared to a tablet or phone, the experience is far more intense, or “hot” in McLuan-istic terms.

The odds of success may be long, but when the planets align to leverage the unique, shared experience the Super Bowl has to offer, nothing is more powerful.

The Budweiser Brand Myth

The planets aligned for Budweiser and its “Born The Hard Way” Super Bowl ad this year.

The strategy to return to the brand’s creation story was in place before the election. It was not concocted as a scheme to exploit a moment in time or make a political statement. It was rooted in authenticity, which is the first and foremost reason for its success.

But lightning struck. A week before the game, a travel ban was imposed by executive order, igniting an even fiercer, more intense, emotional debate about the nature of our democracy and our feelings toward being a nation of immigrants.

A “Boycott Bud” movement quickly arose on social media, but soon the #boycottbud hashtag was adopted as a badge of honor among those opposed to the immigration ban and supportive of Budweiser’s affirmative message. The ad had stirred passions and gone viral.

The spot succeeded brilliantly on all three measures I put forth earlier. It was true to the brand ideals of quality and patriotism and was a terrific execution, telling a relatable, human story in a compelling manner.

Most important, this may be the first Budweiser spot in more than a decade with a good shot at gaining back lost sales. Recent ads, including last year’s temporary “America” rebranding, seemed to be full of empty clichés and inauthentic attempts to return to past glory. This new ad strips all pretense away. No flag waving, no Clydesdales, no blue –collar tough guys, no rock concerts, no ball games. Just the true story of an immigrant with a dream. It almost makes me want to think of Bud as a true craft beer.

We’ll see about its effect on sales as time goes on, but from the feedback I’ve read and the word-of-mouth I’ve heard, the spot certainly seemed to speak to the heart, and at the very least, build a solid foundation for a major shift in attitude toward a brand that many gave up for dead.

  • Andy Landorf
    Posted at 10:18h, 09 February Reply

    I see it a little differently. Bud is a brand in steep decline. Young people are turning more and more to craft beers. The “America” can, which stopped being sold on November 8th by the way, was a blatant appeal to Trump supporters, the last Americans still drinking Bud. Now they support immigration? That smacks to me as the opposite of authentic.
    Sorry Budweiser, you can’t have it both ways, even in this age of alternative facts.

  • John Rindlaub
    Posted at 14:33h, 09 February Reply

    Budweiser, the King of Beers, is being true in both the Americana can spot and the immigrant spot. The former is lazy and clichéd, but the latter is brilliant. Both are on strategy, and authentic, unlike the shifting tweets and fake news of both the Trump and anti Trump politics. I doubt Budweiser was betting Trump would win the election when they launched the American can, nor that an immigration ban would occur just prior to the Super bowl, as that spot was already “in the can” (pun intended). It’s just great advertising, true to the brand’s core, not politics.

  • Super Bowl Ads Disappoint - The Right Brain Studio
    Posted at 13:30h, 05 February Reply

    […] year, I wrote Come for the Game, Stay for the Ads.  This year, it was the other way around. What a game! Like many others, I am fond of saying that […]

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