Fart jokes. Bad puns. Scantily clad models.
That's what the commercials on Super Bowl Sunday will give us next month. Created to appear but once in the light of TV, the spots will endeavor to out-dare one another in a virtual arms-race of foolishness, ribaldry, and expense.
The wags will act like a cross between beauty pageant judges and movie reviewers, celebrating some spots, while panning others. The talk at work the next day might include mention of egregiously good or bad commercials, though most consumers won't remember the name of the company that paid for them.
Then everyone will forget about all of it, until we repeat this awkward minuet next year.
All in the service of branding.
Do companies that advertise on the Super Bowl perform better than those that don't? Nope. Does their promotional marketing cost less than that of their competitors? Naw. Will purchases of their products better endure the talk of economic recession that's putting a crimp in consumer spending? Probably not.
Are companies investing in anything when they buy those spots? Yup.
It turns out that fart jokes, bad puns, and scantily clad models build brands.
Now, that truism of our professional aside, probably there are better reasons to advertise on the Super Bowl. Selling things is nice starting point. But coming up with better answers on how to do that would first require asking different questions.
Companies wouldn't ask "How can we make our ad stand out?" or "Will the spot be true to our brand?" Rather, they'd ask something like this:
"Who's watching; what would we want them to do; when might they most likely do it; where would that behavior happen; and why would it be beneficial to the consumer, as well as to us?”
Who, what, where, when, and why. How gloriously simple.
But if you take awareness, and all of the ethereal benefits of branding, out of the equation, those variables require far more substantive definitions. Coming up with a rationale that has a directional flow, and associating every step with tangible qualities, is a hell of a lot harder than delivering likeability and buzz.
The good news is that you don’t need a popularity vote to figure out if the expense was worth it. You could pretty much connect it to sales.
Here's a five question guide for such a development process:
- Who: Why would you want to talk to a large, diverse group of people? What are the specific characteristics of viewers that make them of interest to you (beyond a broad demographic profile)? Are there better ways to reach them?
- What: What do you want them to do? Check a billfold, send a mobile text message, schedule something? You could even decide to try and link a term or idea to a subsequent action. But identify the takeaway from your spot as a behavior, not a thought. What will people do as they witness your ad brilliance?
- Where: How does the action take place within the context of people watching a football game (the most likely viewer configuration)? It's not reasonable to ask them to visit a web site or remember a name. I've never understood why beer and fast food companies waste time with viewers who are likely already drinking and eating away. Rather, what works in the context of the viewing moment? Dial. Click. Do something.
- When: Can you get people to do whatever it is you want them to do that very moment? Messages start to fade the moment the game starts again, so your what has to happen pretty much when people experience it. Perhaps this prompt to action is the most creative element of the spot. It's certainly the most challenging.
- Why: Connecting the immediate action to another action -- or building it on one prior, as you could be talking to a demographic about something they've already done, and which you want them to repeat, or expand -- is perhaps the key element of the entire strategy. What happens in/with your spot is only a step -- albeit a really gigantic, expensive, all-or-nothing sort of step -- in a series of actions that your customers follow, from awareness to purchase. A marketing plan that treats people who see your Super Bowl spot like just so many other would-be consumers is bordering on the irresponsible, if not outright criminal.
Think direct response, only with context and really nice creative.
Of course, I'm a dim bulb. I'm talking to myself.
Nobody is going to do anything different, even though the media will play up various online or virtual elements as earth-shattering innovation. Still, the "best" commercials will do nothing more than generate lots of immediate attention, focused almost exclusively on their merits as entertainment, not marketing. Visits to web sites might follow. Maybe subsequent, more pointed marketing campaigns will meet with a higher conversion rate.
Once the hubbub is over, however, the brand marketers will go back to slogging it out in what's fast becoming a very difficult economy.
You think rising above the clutter is hard during the Super Bowl? It's worse the rest of the year. And that's when advertising is expected to actually sell something.
For now, let's bring on the farts, puns, and babes. We deserve to smile, even if only briefly.
I'm just glad none of my clients are paying for it.