When Marketing Attempts Fall Short: Super Bowl Ad Fails

Every year around the end of February, Americans anticipate one of their most beloved sporting events – the Super Bowl. While football lovers await the NFL’s championship meetup, marketing geeks unite in their anticipation of the Super Bowl ad rollout. These commercials, for football lovers, mark a bathroom run or a chance to grab a cold one during the break in the action. For others, it’s the best part or perhaps the only reason to watch. (Sorry football fans!)

What Super Bowl ads can teach us about the balance between creativity and effectiveness:

Zero in on your customers first. The most creative idea only matters if your customers take notice. Many Super Bowl ads win at creativity but miss the mark when it comes to targeting the right audience. At (on average) $5.25 million for a 30-second spot, it is an imperative that the creative stands out but also resonates with the right prospects.

No matter how big or small your budget, the creative concept your team comes up with might deserve to be left on the cutting room floor if it doesn’t apply to your target audience. It’s important to craft ideas that mean something to your customers. It’s an easy mistake to make as you’re brainstorming ideas. Here’s an example: your office is full of GenXers who all love to binge watch a series on Netflix, so they come up with a creative concept that only fans of that show would understand. They love it, but your audience is mostly female and in the Baby Boomer demographic – an audience that is not aligned with Netflix or the show. Be sure to pump the brakes on creative ideas that don’t fit the audience, no matter how much you may love them.

Social causes are great if they’re relevant. Everyone wants to jump on the social-cause-bandwagon these days, and for good reason. One crucial reason marketers are seeking ways to bake their social consciousness into their marketing efforts is the coveted millennial. Millennials are more likely to choose companies and become brand-affiliated with companies that show they have a dedication to social causes. The problem is just changing the color of your logo to pink during breast cancer awareness month is not enough. This practice is called pink washing. Some companies greenwash during the period near Earth Day. Frankly, it’s really not cool. If you’re efforts to highlight social causes are irrelevant, short-sighted or, even worse, disingenuous or self-serving, they can have the opposite effect than intended.

Steer clear of the controversial, in almost all cases. Controversy may garner attention, but that attention may not convert into customers. In fact, the attention the controversial marketing campaign creates might even backfire into today’s social media-driven, socially-sensitive atmosphere. Do you really want to alienate clients? Maybe. But make sure you are making an informed, conscious decision. Finding the balance between good shock value and negative shock value should always be considered before you pull the trigger on your scandalous idea.

Ad fails (and other real-world examples) deconstructed. I recently heard someone say that sometimes it’s his job “to smack the romance out of his clients.” Excitement does get the better of us and countless examples of these ad fails come to mind. Let’s deconstruct two recent examples, just for fun….err…educational purposes.

  • Andy Warhol Commercial For Burger King – Do you know who Andy Warhol is without an image of his infamous Campbell Soup cans next to him? If you’re like most of Burger King’s demographic, there’s a high probability you don’t. As a design geek, I can appreciate vintage Andy Warhol footage of the art icon doing anything. On the other hand, my marketing brain was confused by so many aspects of the Super Bowl commercial this year. It was not branded Burger King – I mean, the BK bag was prominently place but the whopper kind of looked sad. And the Heinz bottle made it seem a bit like a ketchup commercial. Maybe an end tag with the a nod to BK’s old tagline like “You don’t have to be Andy Warhol to have it your way” would have helped to give a clue. Epic fail for BK, in this marketer’s opinion.
  • Flirtatious Napkins For Coca Cola – Delta Airlines and Coca Cola recently issued an apology for its insensitive and poorly timed, flirty napkin campaign that invited passengers to flirt with other passengers via a branded Coke napkin. In today’s  “Me Too” environment, the campaign was instantly met with insult and outrage. I think the important thing to note is that no matter what the environment, there are people that are not going to get the joke.  

Whether our ad spot costs $5.25 million or it’s a more down to earth endeavor, like an email that drives conversions or a landing page that drives new leads into your sales pipeline, the fight against mediocrity is always real. Your entire marketing budget may not even be a fraction of these million dollar campaigns but it’s all relative. Making the most of your resources and  winning the creativity game should also include best practices, knowledge of what works with your audience and never expose your brand to unnecessary risk.

Looking for ways to rise above the noise and avoid the epic fail? I can help!