Marketers are running towards purpose-driven (or values-driven, issues-based, politically and socially-conscious ads) ads. It’s all the rage. Look at Nike. Or Gillette. Or Pepsi. Or Audi. Or Coke. And so on…and so on. Marketers have seemingly bought into a spate of research that suggests consumers want brands to stand for something and so they produce ads—and then air them during the Super Bowl (and other shows). I believe marketers are misreading the research. Consumers want brands to make a difference—not talk about how virtuous they are. When it comes to values or purpose, consumers care about what brands do—not what they say. And on Super Bowl Sunday, they want ads that entertain.
Because marketers are so committed to purpose-driven advertising, I decided to do a little research. This is not academic quality research. It is a convenience sample of 52 marketers. I asked a simple question: “Why do you watch the Super Bowl ads?” and gave them choices (1) entertainment value, (2) brand purpose—political/social stance, (3) have to—because they are marketers, or (4) some other reason. I also asked them to share their thoughts if they were so inclined.
Interestingly, almost all of the respondents indicated that they watch Super Bowl ads for entertainment value (97%) and / or for learning value because they are marketers (54%). Only one person indicated that they watched them to learn about the political/social (i.e., purpose) stance of brands (and that one person also checked the other categories—she watches the ads for all of the provided reasons). Of note, one person indicated he watched the ads because he is an investor—a novel and unexpected answer.
The takeaway? When marketing leaders put on their consumer hats, they really just want to be entertained. I want to repeat this because of the irony … marketers don’t want to watch issue-driven ads during the Super Bowl. Of course, my next question then is: Why are we making such ads to foist onto our consumers?
Some Reasons Why Marketers Watch Super Bowl Ads
As Jeremy Korst, President GBH Insights (and former executive from Microsoft) said, “I watch them for a combination of entertainment value and to enjoy experiencing the creative juices of the best agencies, but also because I love to try to intuit the underlying strategies and trends that the ads imply, e.g, what are the major brands trying to get consumers to do in the coming months and how are they trying to differentially and competitively position themselves?”
SVP at large, global CPG firm: “The Super Bowl ads are fun to watch as an observer and marketer because it’s the intersection of creativity and maximum pressure. Most times it does not end well. As an insider to several ads the stakes are higher and that puts more people in the mix and that usually winds up with the safe vanilla flavor of not taking risk or with the “kitchen sink” of trying too hard. When it works people praise it as massive coverage. When it doesn’t, they say it was just another ad day.”
Paul Farris, Landmarks Communications Professor Emeritus of Business Administration, suggests: “I am always looking to guess both how much the ads cost to produce and how much air time they will get after the game.”
Lee Susen, Chief Marketing and Sales Officer of Tobasco, indicates: “I’m not a football fan, so I usually watch the ads before or after the event because I’m a marketer and want to understand how my counterparts are choosing to share their message on this particular stage. I do it because I want to not because I have to though. My rationale is zeitgeist – I want to be part of the cultural conversation the days after the Super Bowl. As a marketing professional, I will be asked my opinion (and most definitely won’t have one on the game).”
Margaret Molloy, Global CMO, Siegel+Gale: “I watch the Super Bowl ads to uncover clues as to what today’s brands are promising customers. Subsequently, it’s fascinating to see how this communication maps to real customer experience.”
Kristina Loftus, Co-Founder of Rhoback, “I watch them primarily for entertainment value. But since starting my own business, I’m really interested in learning what other brands are doing to get customers’ attention (so now it’s more educational for me).”
Judd Marcello, EVP Global Marketing at Cheetah Digital: “I always watch the ads ahead of time. The marketer in me is curious about not only who chose to spend the money, but why and how they did. I expect to see some the same brands every year, but I am most interested in the brands buying in for the first time. I want to know the story behind why they felt the need and what they hoped to achieve. We’re they launching a product? Was it purely about elevating their brand? Or was it some kind of moonshot play to become part of the conversation? If I see something that really jumps out at me, I’ll dig in and look for articles and interviews about it and research what agency makes it.”
Tom Gonzales, Consultant at Boston Consulting Group: “Its always entertaining to see which social media trends/influencers brands get behind.”
Ryan Langan, Assistant Professor, University of San Francisco: “I am a football fan, so I watch the Super Bowl primarily for the game itself. However, I watch the ads both for my own entertainment and through the lens of a marketing academician – what can I learn that I can share with students or incorporate into research.”
Executive at financial services firm: “I watch primarily for entertainment, to see what they were able to come up with. However, if a brand takes a significant stance one way or the other on a political or social issue, I’d probably take note. Usually not for the positive as I don’t think corporations made up of thousands of individuals should take a political stance unless it is to support their business model as there are probably 30-40% of their workforce that may object to that position.”
Scott Brinker, VP Platform Ecosystem at Hubspot: “The collection of ads that air with the Super Bowl give you a terrific 2-3 hour window into the minds of the top creative leaders in the advertising industry. Not necessarily always aligned with what resonates with consumers. But the “misses” are as instructive as the “hits.”
Brand Manager at a large firm (anonymous because of corporate policy): “With brands/companies placing big bets on the reach of the Super Bowl as a platform, it’s a great way to evaluate these ads for trends, competitive intelligence, and understanding where different industries are looking for future growth.”
Special thanks to Tom Fishburne for allowing me to use his cartoon (which you can find here). His cartoons are a must-see for anybody interested in marketing (and you can sign up for his newsletter).
Join the Discussion: @KimWhitler