Super Bowl Advertising and the Stories That Win Our Hearts and Minds


Super Bowl Sunday is less than a week away and the buzz around which brand will score with the next big, epic advertising spot has already begun. Who will win the highest share of buzz? Which ad will capture the "best" accolades by the ad meters? Who will lose their job by having blown millions of dollars on a commercial gone horribly wrong? Ah, the excitement!

I've been covering this topic for a few years now and have had the privilege to work with many folks who have many more years of experience than I on the topic. The most common theme I hear from the smartest people I know is that a great TV spot is typically centered around great storytelling. Sure, hot women, jumping dogs and dude humor always score well in the media, but the ones that ultimately win the highest share of hearts and minds are the ones that tell a story that moves us. Think Eminem and Chrysler, think Budweiser and Clydesdales, think 1984 and Apple - these are spots that tell a story, drive an emotion, and connect consumers with their overall brand values. And, by the way, score among the highest in effectiveness.

So, as we head into the big game with chips and dip in hand and Deflategate jokes ready to roll, I turned to a leading expert on the topic of Super Bowl advertising, Tony Ponturo of The Kirmser/Ponturo Group, to get his take on the formulas that will ultimately define this year's advertising winners and losers. Tony spent nearly three decades at Anheuser-Busch and is widely recognized as the leading visionary that transformed the Super Bowl ad from a coveted TV spot to a global brand platform.

Here was our conversation.

DAMIAN: Tony, what's the most common mistake we'll see brands make in their spots on Sunday?

TONY: Taking themselves too seriously. Advertisers that win on game day make you smile and pull at your heart strings. Anheuser-Busch won the [USA Today] Ad Meter ten years in a row using comedy including sight gags with Bud Light and, yes, the emotion and tradition of the Clydesdales with Budweiser.

The Super Bowl is a fun day. People gather with others. No one is hanging on every word. There needs to be a broad message and supporting visual. This is the one marketing asset that reaches over 100 million people across every possible age, gender and cultural classification at one moment in time. Advertisers must realize it's not about being "niche" or overly trendy but a message that is all embracing.

DAMIAN: What types of brands are typically best suited to run a Super Bowl spot?

TONY: Historically, most successful commercial spots are delivered by either consumer products or packaged goods--think beer, soft drinks, snack brands, etc. As an aside, look at what more serious categories like insurance companies (i.e., Geico and State Farm) have done using humor to present their message. GoDaddy, for example, uses the Super Bowl to create huge brand awareness at the beginning of each year with interesting spots that consistently drive a ton of press.

The bottom line is that Super Bowl Sunday is a broad, male/female, middle America holiday. You need a brand or a message that talks to that consumer--not one that the agency folks think is interesting but ultimately doesn't connect or jump out from the game and all of the commercial clutter.

DAMIAN: Aside from the fact that digital is now a primary driver of the actual impressions, as someone who has seen the changes in Super Bowl advertising strategy over your many years as a professional in the field, how has the spirit around the advertising changed?

TONY: The spirit of the super bowl advertising has changed in that advertisers are "sneak peeking" their commercials through digital and advanced publicity in an effort to get a conversation going well before the big game. The more the advertiser can generate talk, value and story lines around their commercial messages, the more their $4.5 million investment can generate value.

The key focus for all involved is to realize firstly that all of this effort has to grow sales and secondly that it needs to provide equity to air these commercials after the Super Bowl. They need to stay aligned with the brand's true value and attributes that relate to the consumer. The ultimate winner has a commercial that captures the conversation, aligns with the brand's messaging, and results in a spike in sales that is sustainable.

Well said, Tony.