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What We Can Learn From Super Bowl LIII’s Mistakes

The Super Bowl is America’s biggest sporting event of the year, ranking above any game of the World Series, the NBA Championships, March Madness, and all other sports broadcasts. Actually, the fact that eight of the top ten broadcasts in 2018, sporting or otherwise, were football games points to football’s utter dominance of the American TV landscape.

The Super Bowl nearly doubled the next highest non-Super Bowl-related broadcast in 2018 (and nearly tripled the next highest non-football broadcast). In fact, the post-game show was still the second-most-watched TV event of the year, outstripping the conference championship games by nearly 25%.

Viewership for 2019’s Super Bowl was down below 100 million for the first time since 2008, however, if this year is anything like the ones that came before, the Super Bowl will likely remain the top television broadcast of 2019. Ads this year cost more than ever, with a 30-second spot fetching about $5.25 million, up from about $5 million in 2018. The question remains: were they worth it?

Did Anyone Get Their Money’s Worth Out of Super Bowl Ads This Year?

Fans went into the game outraged at the league’s handling of the NFC Championship Game, resulting in the New Orleans Saints’ exclusion from the Super Bowl, followed by a practically nonexistent league response to questions concerning it. When the game itself was termed a “snooze-fest,” becoming the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever, it became clear that viewership suffered as a result.

Add to that some truly bizarre advertising and a disappointing half-time performance, and the return on investment may not have been as high as expected.

Choices Were Made

Though Super Bowl ads have become a cultural phenomenon in recent years and the subject of discussion around the Super Bowl Monday water cooler, this year’s ads had trouble building excitement. In fact, most of the “most talked-about” ads wound up being the ones found to be the strangest choices.

Fortunately for us, however, this is where we can all be armchair quarterbacks, though not in the football sense. Let’s take a look back on some of the “misses” of Super Bowl LIII and see what marketing lessons we can draw from them. 

1. Eat Like Andy – Burger King

First on the list is Burger King’s utterly confusing Andy Warhol-themed commercial. Aside from being even more slow-moving than the game itself, many found it hard to understand. Actually, almost nobody understood the ad – not even the demographics that were familiar with Andy Warhol back in his prime.

Many give credit to Burger King for trying something new and for getting people talking (though statements of utter confusion are probably not the way any business wants to get its audience talking). However, from a marketing standpoint, there are some very clear lessons we can take from Eat like Andy.

First, trying something new is commendable. Crucial, even, to a business’s success, and companies like Arby’s have done it well. However, it appears that Burger King failed to consider its audience while venturing into new territory. Since more than half the Super Bowl’s audience was not alive when Andy Warhol died back in 1987, logic would lead one to believe that an ad capitalizing on his fame would at least have to focus on his iconic artwork to up his recognizability. Spoiler alert – it didn’t. 

What BK has done for us is to highlight the importance of knowing the demographics, preferences, and other metrics of your audience. Play to them, not against them, otherwise your message will be lost.

Take a risk. Just make sure that risk makes sense when you consider what you know about your audience.

2. Food Porn – Devour (Kraft-Heinz)

While this ad did a good job of showing how much at least one consumer truly enjoys Devour’s line of frozen food, it made many of us a little uncomfortable. Keep in mind, that the 30-second version shown during the Super Bowl was seriously tamed down from the original. If you haven’t seen the full version, give it a watch.

More uncomfortable than you were during the Super Bowl version itself? You’re not alone – the Super Bowl version eliminated the terms “amateur videos” and “porn,” but did keep the terms “three-minute man” and other references most marketers are shying away from these days.

Now consider the fact that the full version of the ad was placed for one day on a large internet pornography site, alongside the banner “Food Porn.”

If nothing else, the ad was designed to get attention, which is one of the primary focuses of any marketing effort. Garner attention it did; however, most attention was negative. The ad did not score well with viewers.

The lesson learned is similar to the one learned with Eat Like Andy – take a chance. Be bold. However, don’t do it in a way that will alienate a large portion of your audience – or at least make them uncomfortable.

3. Chunky Style Milk – Mint Mobile

Do we need to remind you of the primary gimmick of this ad? In it, a family is exclaiming their enthusiasm for chunky-style milk, all while downing glasses of inedible-looking spoiled milk. If the Food Porn ad was uncomfortable, this one was downright gag-worthy.

This ad followed the trend of overly gimmicky ads that tended to alienate the target audience. The ad didn’t fare well even among its target audience of college-aged adults, and most of that was likely due to the ick factor.

Another problem we see with this ad is that not only does the gimmick serve to catch user attention in all the wrong ways, like the ads above, it also catches too much attention. Most people we asked were only able to describe the ad as “that chunky milk ad” and had almost no idea what product or service was being sold. That’s hardly the response you want from your target audience.

The marketing takeaway from this one? Don’t rely on gimmicks, especially not to the detriment of your ability to relay useful information consumers need to know about your products. A key tagline here or there is fine – distracting consumers from your actual brand message is not.

4. Pepsi

As the sponsor of the 2019 halftime show, Pepsi pays a purported $7 million plus for the show each year and will host the show for the next few years regardless of results. This year’s show made headlines for all the wrong reasons. In the months leading up to the Super Bowl, the list of performers who refused to participate grew longer and longer.

The reason – artists standing with Colin Kaepernick in the ongoing NFL-vs-kneeling-players battle – isn’t Pepsi’s fault. However, the show has been labeled as tone-deaf by many, since Pepsi failed to procure the most prominent Atlanta-area artists for the show.

Then, Pepsi did manage to garner celebrities for its ad spot, featuring Steve Carell, Lil’ Jon and Cardi B in an ad that fell flat and lacked the cool factor it was attempting, all while spending another $5.25 million.

The lesson? Put your marketing money into avenues that can bring you growth. Pepsi spent over $12 million in two areas that garnered very little besides negativity. Research your data for areas that have traditionally triggered growth and expand your reach into them. Do so gradually, testing along the way, to avoid sinking a lot of money into something that won’t produce the ROI you’re hoping for.

About the author


Stephen Moyers

Stephen Moyers is an out of the heart writer voicing out his take on various topics of social media, web design, mobile apps, digital marketing, entrepreneurship, startups and much more in the cutting edge digital world. He is associated with SPINX Digital a Los Angeles web design company & digital marketing agency. When he is not writing, he can be found traveling outdoors with his camera. You can follow Stephen on Twitter @StephenMoyers