Super Bowl Commercials: Too Many Hail Mary Ads

As much as the Super Bowl is the showcase for the NFL, it has transformed into a spotlight for marketers to suit-up and play on the largest stage. But, a majority of these commercials missed the receiver on basic routes and brands appear to be throwing Hail Mary ads.

I cut my teeth in radio, starting as a “street teamer.” The rawest form of marketing –guerilla. We had a running competition on who could place the most visible station banner. After a late Sunday night club gig, driving home, I had an epiphany–a 76 Expressway exit sign.

I climbed up and scaled across these thin catwalks, taping our plastic logo on East- and Westbound signs for all of AM Drive, in and out of the city to see.

There are lessons to be learned from this bold placement for marketing teams:

Going Big for Impressions

We were up against the behemoth that was Clear Channel (iHeartMedia) and our jobs were to make as much as a presence as we could. We didn’t have a budget for billboards or commercials, so we drove around and hung these disposable, plastic signs all around the city and suburbs. So, this competition spurred.

What has traditionally been reserved for the largest brands that have the most substantial media budgets, unusual suspects have popped up to join the Super Bowl festivities. And over the past few Super Bowls, more and more curious organizations have been writing these checks –going big for impressions.

I went big and taped my logo in a highly visible location with unusual prominence. There were risks (safety and legal) with this installation, just for impressions. In hindsight, this risk didn’t outweigh the reward and we could never attribute the banners to ratings.

Takeaway: Awareness is mutually exclusive of interest, or even action. A Super Bowl commercial grants impressions, but that doesn’t necessarily equate top-line growth.

Creative vs Call-to-Action

These disposable, plastic signs were just a big brand marking. Their primary function was for on-site events, to drive visibility of presence. A call-to-action wasn’t necessary for that environment since we were there. But when used in the fashion as a “billboard,” the proposal to listen was assumed (with the dial number being in the logo).

While the placement of these station banners provided reach, it lacked a directive.

In my humble opinion, there were very few ads that balanced creative vs. call-to-action. We saw great brand stories or value propositions but commercials fell flat on the next best action. Not one commercial was enticing enough for me to pick-up my phone in simple curiosity of being a marketer, let alone interest as a consumer.

Takeaway: As compelling of as the commercials were and the reach of placement, a strong call-to-action is needed if you want to influence the customer journey.

I am being a Monday Morning Quarterback, not having intimate knowledge of each brands’ objectives or goals. But with the pressure of creativity in these situations and the heightened stakeholder feedback in such investment, we still have to ensure we are executing on the basics.

This banner competition was fun, but it was just a bunch of blind throws. The likelihood of any of them, even the risky ones, directly supporting long-term growth was as slim as the Expressway sign’s catwalk.

What I know from taking my own risks and learnings gathered since that daring night, impressions can only take you so far. And without a strong call-to-action, consumers will just drive past your logo, bootstrapped to an exit sign or in a high-priced ad; they don’t divert significant attention.

We are at a point in marketing where big plays don’t convert if you aren’t applying the fundamentals.

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