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February 13, 2014

What the Super Bowl Ads Teach Small Businesses About Marketing

Coke superbowl

At a price tag exceeding $133,000 per second, Super Bowl commercials are the ultimate ‘big risk, big reward’ advertising opportunity. While most of us can’t afford $4 million for a 30-second spot, we can learn volumes by the successes and failures of these bold submissions. 2014 proved to be another year of immense creativity, and colossal misfires for the big game’s advertisers. Let’s examine the hits and misses, and let them all enlighten small businesses on how best to market to their audiences.

Coca-Cola’s Lesson: Go Big or Go Home

Coke’s ‘America is Beautiful’ advertisement features dramatic and powerful imagery of seven different cultures, while this iconic song is sung in just as many languages. It’s a 60-second spot that stirs the pot; either you’re moved by the diversity and emotion expressed, or outraged by the diversity and emotion expressed.

Coca-Cola often treads on dangerous ground, but the brand is thriving, so it’s hard to question its tactics. It has long since embraced creating an emotional connection with its viewers, and quite often through song (as with the classic ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.’) This year’s game ad has sparked plenty of controversy from folks who objected to a patriotic tune expressed in multiple languages. They had to know not everyone would embrace this sentiment, and they had to also know that’s likely a very good thing.

Coke knows that to be memorable, ruffling a few feathers normally comes with the territory. The lessons here are plenty:

  • Always stay true to the identity of your brand; this was a classic Coca-Cola offering, it made sense in every way, and stayed consistent with its previous messaging.
  • Emotions are powerful marketing tools; find a way to draw your audience’s feelings into your messaging, and you’ve definitely made an impact.
  • Carefully match imagery and words with the tone you have targeted; everything about this ad feels cohesively integrated. It created a vision for the style, and every detail reflects that.

Not every small business has the stomach for controversy, so only tread in these waters if it feels integral to your brand. But if you’re called to make a splash through emotions, Coke is a fantastic and inspiring example.

Radio Shack’s Lessons: Embrace Your Faults Head-On

Radio Shack’s commercial this year is arguably the most brilliant, as they dared to face the issues with their identity with humor and integrity. They listened to the masses articulate that the overall sentiments around Radio Shack is that it’s a dated and somewhat archaic brand. The company wisely chose to revamp and relaunch its identity, and crafted a brilliant way to alert the masses through this ad.

The commercial rides on the line ‘The ’80s called — it wants its store back.’ At which time an absolute avalanche of ’80s icons come barreling through the store. The company chose a light-hearted approach to what could otherwise be a fatal brand image. The ad is extremely funny, memorable and well-executed.

The core lessons here involves being hyper-aware of how the public views your brand image, and transforming any faults into identity strengths. And by all means, if you can pull it off, use humor to enforce your point. It’s the hardest emotion of all to nail, but it’s also the most impactful.

Budweiser’s Lesson: Get Your Viewers Involved

Budweiser might just be the king of Super Bowl ads, not just beer. The Budweiser Brotherhood commercial wasn’t just a heart-tugging tale, but also a brilliant way to invoke a call to action.

After an emotional minute showcasing a deep bond between a man and his horse, Budweiser ends the piece by asking viewers to join a Twitter conversation. The company gave folks a chance to name the foal showcased in the ad by tweeting a specific hashtag. This is an incredibly smart way to integrate social media with its biggest ad of the year. Way to make those dollars work in multiple channels.

Volkswagen Lesson: Be Smartly Creative

Standing out from the pack is especially essential on big game day; ads have to emerge not just from the clutter of competition, but the roar of the inevitable party occurring in every living room. Creativity is often the key to being memorable, but if the uniqueness of the message doesn’t tie directly back to the brand, it’s all for naught.

Volkswagen nailed it this year with its Wings commercial. It’s a ridiculously creative piece about a dad excited to reach the 100k mile milestone, and his unimpressed daughter. The piece hypothesizes that every time a Volkswagen hits 100,000 miles, a German engineer gets his or her wings. The execution is funny, and Volkswagen shows immense awareness of its brand identity.

Audi, by contrast, showed us how not to portray creativity with its Doberhuaha spot. It’s zany all right, but without any real clear tie to Audi’s brand. It reeks of an ad that is weird just for the sake of being weird; there wasn’t enough integration with the cars themselves to make this ad successful. Many folks remember the bizarre dogs, but have no concept of what company produced the piece. That’s an epic fail.

Super Bowl ads are a goldmine of marketing lessons. Small businesses that study the successful and unsuccessful entries receive a windfall of clarity and inspiration; and without the $4-million price tag.

Which ads were you most inspired by this year? And which ones totally fell flat for you?


Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. Visit My Google+ Profile