Super Bowl 2019 was a bust for a number of reasons—some of which are in marketers’ control and others of which aren’t. It’s nobody’s fault that there were more punts than touchdowns or that the halftime show didn’t inspire viewers, but the ads and the marketing campaigns around them showed a lack of creativity—many were lackluster and unforgettable. According to Nielsen, this year’s Super Bowl scored a 44.9 overnight household rating, declining 5% year-over-year.
The game was also watched by the fewest number of people in 11 years, with only 98.2 million tuning in. This downward trend shows how difficult it is to succeed in advertising, particularly during large scale live events. The landscape is fractured and as viewers’ eyes flicker from the big screen to the screen in their hand, how are marketers supposed to keep up?
Where’s the “Wow”?
From a marketing perspective, I think the Super Bowl is overrated. The ads are overhyped and uninspiring as brands try to get the most attention with the biggest splash. Celebrities like Harrison Ford, John Legend, Luke Wilson (really, Luke?), and Cardi B fill out our big screen TVs one ad after another. While celebrities are familiar and have mass appeal, no one feels too strongly one way or the other about them, and if they are not a good representative of the brand, who cares?
Over the water cooler on Monday, a teammate of mine lamented the lack of a Doritos ad this year. But there was a Doritos ad, right? This anecdote just shows how cluttered the Super Bowl has become.
As we head into awards and finals season (March Madness, The Masters, and Oscars are all coming up soon) I urge marketers to beware of the big event trap—this is not the time to throw things at the wall and see what sticks. There is so much pressure to get eyeballs and positive reviews that live events are bending over backward for talent and ratings. Just look at what happened with the Oscars this year, no host is confirmed, and the show lacks direction. As a brand, do you really want to take the chance on being associated with that?
What Would Marie Kondo Do?
After a recent Netflix binge with my wife of Marie Kondo’s new show, I can’t help but wonder if marketers and advertisers could learn a thing or two by applying her approach to these big events. Let’s spark a little joy, shall we? A few brands did this exceptionally well during the Super Bowl this year.
Skittles for the first time in years decided to forgo a traditional ad spot and held a “Skittles Broadway Musical” that had Michael C. Hall dancing around in a catsuit, talking about Skittles in a fantastic meta filled half hour of amusement. Or take the Instagram Egg, who used its newfound popularity to talk about mental illness awareness and a partnership with Hulu during the Super Bowl.
What is unique about these two examples is they were either targeted or surprising. What misses the mark about so many campaigns during these large events is the mass appeal factor. How do you make the most impact and reach the most people in a small window? With 30 seconds of air time reaching $5.25 million, it’s no wonder that the pressure is on for marketers.
Targeting the Right People at the Right Time
This is where authenticity comes in, and yes, that is a word that is tossed around a lot but I think it begs repeating here. Being authentic to a brand or an idea is one of the most effective ways to create a loyal following. So many of the Super Bowl ads fell flat because they didn’t feel authentic to the brand.
Expensify was an example to me that rang hollow; do I really need to see a Super Bowl ad about an expense app geared at companies and accountants? Shouldn’t they be reaching out to HR professionals and financial teams? How does a Super Bowl advertisement drive me to want to use the app? I don’t get to decide what app my company uses and, unless I feel strongly, I am not likely to ask my employer to change our provider. And that’s me, a business professional who actually works at a company that does, in fact, use their services.
If you can’t spark joy, at least be authentic, strategic and precise. This is where marketers and advertisers have the opportunity to speak directly to their consumers, loyal shoppers and first adopters—why waste it? As attention spans become increasingly fractured, your message needs to be more honed and delivered at the right time. Instead of making the biggest splash, refine until you know exactly who you are speaking to and what matters to them. You can’t please everyone, but you can at least try to connect with the audiences you know.