Touchdown! A Deep Dive into Big Game Ads That Scored

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Key advertising takeaways for small business owners

Another Big Game is in the history books, along with another set of pricy ads that people will be talking about around the water cooler, on Facebook and Twitter, and even in the boardroom. While small-to-medium-sized businesses can’t afford the 3.8 million dollars for an ad during the game, there’s still plenty to learn from the ads themselves…insights and strategies that you can apply to your own advertising.

Let’s get to it.

The Anatomy of an Effective Ad

The stakes are about as high as they can get, but you’ll be surprised to learn that much of what makes up a strong Big Game ad are strategies you can use for your own advertising.

1. Have a strong, clear message. Sixty and thirty seconds will go by fast, which means your message has to be crystal clear. At the end of the ad, you don’t want people looking at each other and saying, “What was that about again?” Sure, they might not like what your ad says or the way the message is delivered, but they need to know—quickly and without thinking too hard—what the message is (and who the advertiser is).

Takeaway for small businesses: When you’re putting together your ads—whether it’s for Facebook, a place mat in the local coffee shop in town, or a print ad in a trade mag—ask ask yourself these questions:

  • What are we trying to communicate? If you don’t know your message, how can you expect your audience to understand it? Focus on one key point. A big mistake people make is trying to jam too many different thoughts into one ad.
  • How are we communicating this message? What words are you using? What images? What themes?
  • Are there other ways to communicate this message? This is the place to brainstorm. Are there other words, images, themes that you can use? Brainstorm a list. Just by thinking about things more deeply, you might find a better, stronger way to communicate your message.

2. Know your audience. Yes, this sounds like a no-brainer, but when we say “know” your audience, we mean really know them (beyond age and gender).

Takeaway for small businesses: If you’re advertising for a publication (digital or print), your ad rep should have a media kit that breaks down the audience. If you’re setting up ads—like Google AdWords or Facebook ads—you can target based on keywords. Your ad copy will—and should—be adjusted based on your target audience. (In other words, one size does NOT fit all.)

3. Determine how you’ll get your message across. Will your ad entertain (and, hopefully, be memorable as a result) or inform? This goes back to knowing your audience. The Big Game audience wants entertainment. That’s why funny, often over-the-top ads tend to prevail (yet they still get their messages across). Other audiences might hunger for information, in which case a different type of ad might be needed. Advertorials come to mind—these are “ads” that read like feature stories in magazines and newspapers, but at the bottom, you’ll see a “paid advertisement” disclaimer. Advertorials are often used to educate the target audience about a particular product or service.

Takeaway for small businesses: Again, know your audience. Also, take a look at other advertising that’s running in the medium you’re thinking of placing your ad in…do the ads tend to inform or entertain or both? You don’t need to follow the leader necessarily–running a more entertaining ad in a publication that has more traditional advertising *could* be a way to stand out. But when in doubt, checking out what other advertisers are doing is good place to start.

4. Don’t re-invent the wheel. You’ll see the “star” of one of our favorite ads below has been appearing in Big Game commercials for quite some time (yes, we’re talking about the Budweiser Clydesdales). Budweiser found a winner when it first aired these commercials, and it has come back to them time and time again because of their effectiveness and popularity.

Takeaway for small businesses: Have you run advertising in the past that’s worked incredibly well? What was it about the ad that worked? Have you tried re-running the ad or using similar ads? What were the results?

5. Be willing to take risks and try new things. You might not have a winning “Clydesdale” in your past advertising, but just remember this: Budweiser didn’t always have a winning Clydesdale either. At some point, you have to try out new concepts, even some of those wildcard ideas.

Takeaway for small businesses: Keep at it until you find your winning ad. No, it might never be as big and splashy as a horse, but through trial and error (especially when it comes to digital advertising through media like Facebook), you’ll eventually discover a winning formula for your message and audience…one that delivers the results you’re looking for: sales.

5 Winning Ads…and What Made Them Great

An important note: It wasn’t so long ago that we had to wait until the game before we saw the commercials. Now, many advertisers release or “leak” their ads in advance and enjoy an even bigger bang for their buck since lots of the ads go viral and/or are discussed for days—and even weeks—leading up to the big game. After all, Mashable reports YouTube’s research that ads shown before the big game get 600% more views. That’s a lot of eyeballs!

1. Budweiser “Brotherhood.” We know it’s the “king of beers,” but it also might just be the king of Big Game advertising, too. How could Bud possibly re-invent our favorite horses that have been around for, well, forever? By introducing a baby Clydesdale (which scores high on the “aww” factor) and offering the subtle message that Bud brings you together…and keeps you together for the long haul (the “brotherhood” angle). Plus! Bud has made the ad interactive by asking fans to help name the baby Clydesdale. (Fun fact: The Budweiser Clydesdales were first introduced to the public in 1933–no, that’s not a typo!)

2. Pizza Hut’s “Hut Hut Hut.” This goes into the “well, duh!” category. Kudos to the copywriter who made the connection between the “hut” in “Pizza Hut” and the “hut!” quarterbacks of every age call out during football games. This commercial is fun, inclusive (men and women, old and young), memorable, and crowdsourced – Pizza Hut released an early version of the commercial and invited fans to upload their best “hut, hut, huts” to its Facebook page. It choose some of the best and created a commercial around it (which it debuted last Thursday and played during the game last night).

3. Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl.” Two words: Totally crowdsourced. Regardless of what you thought of the “winning” commercials (there were two winners), this is a brilliant, winning idea on Doritos’ part (one the company has been doing for the last several years). Here’s the scoop: Doritos held a contest called Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” commercial. People filmed commercials and submitted them, and legendary director Michael Bay helped choose the finalists and fans voted for the winners, which aired during the game. In other words, this got A LOT of air time outside of the Big Game. Very smart!

4. Taco Bell “Viva Young.” Oh, Taco Bell, you saucy little minx, you! The only words spoken in this commercial were in the beginning. The rest is just a visual and audio masterblend of awesomeness, as Taco Bell does the unexpected (always a smart move for entertaining commercials) by making grandma and grandpa the stars in a funny (and at moments, frightening) way. Why is it effective? Because it solidifies Taco Bell’s “Live más” (Live more) message/tagline. And it’s hilarious and memorable to boot.

5. Kia “Space Babies.” So, here’s the thing about funny, clever ads. The funniness and cleverness will only get you so far…and neither will matter if the viewer can’t recall what the ad is for. One of the reasons we think people will remember the Kia “Space Babies” ad is because of the narrative. It’s less frenzied than some of the other over-the-top commercials, and it’s more story-centric. As a result, it’s easier to remember what the heck the commercial is about: Kia’s new family-mobile. What makes it funny? Babies of all sorts (from humans to giraffes to puppies) and a situation that all parents can relate to. The cleverness comes in the answer to the age-old question: where do babies come from?

What were some of your favorite commercials during the Big Game? Share in the comments!

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