Trevor Stauffer

Market Invention at the Super Bowl

The airtime between whistles during the Super Bowl is the most expensive in all of sports, with 30 second time slots reportedly costing brands over $5 million in 2018. But experts disagree when it comes to the efficacy of Super Bowl advertising. Some researchers, like those at the firm Communicus, claim the commercials do little to boost business. On the other hand,  some economists claim a good ad can pay for itself many times over. Still others will speculate that while Super Bowl ads don’t directly contribute much to sales, they can improve brand favorability. These differences of opinion might stem from the fact that researchers don’t usually consider the quality of the product itself. With around 100 million people watching, Super Bowl ads should certainly be a fantastic way to raise awareness of an innovative product.

What we often see in Super Bowl ads are companies competing to be the funniest or most touching, relegating brand messaging to the backseat. Plenty of analysts argue that this can be an effective marketing strategy, and there is certainly a place for humor and emotion in advertising. But we at Merit believe that at the core of a persuasive marketing campaign is a top-notch product. Let’s take a look at a few ads from the Super Bowl through the lens of Market Mnvention.

The Best

A common trend among many ads was leveraging technology to reinvent an already existing service. One example of this was TD Ameritrade’s commercial for its new 24-hour trading platform. TD Ameritrade was one of the first companies to offer online trading services to the general public, and its newest service is changing the game again. For the first time ever, online investors will be able to access US equity markets from the closing bell until they re-open the next morning.  Or, as Lionel Richie says in the ad, “all evening long,” “all night through its entirety,” “from darkness to light.”

Another company using technology to improve a financial service was Quicken Loans. Its ad, starring Keegan-Michael Key and Big Sean, outlined three big problems with traditional mortgages: complexity, wait time, and expense. Rocket Mortgage eliminates all three of those dreaded elements and replaces them with a simple app. The happy actors are approved for their mortgage, and the once-intimidating broker is left fumbling and powerless. That’s textbook Market Invention: offering an existing service in a revolutionary model.

Michelob Ultra has been exploding in popularity over the past few years, and its Super Bowl spot was a great example of the angle its used to achieve such growth. The ad featured Chris Pratt training hard for a lead role in a Michelob Ultra commercial. Not very original as far as plot, but it did align with Michelob’s identity and message: beer “for those who go the extra mile.” While Michelob didn’t invent light beer – its brew actually has a few more calories than some other popular offerings – the company has continued to grow by relentlessly presenting its beer as a product made for health-conscious individuals. The company organizes online fitness challenges, sponsors athletic events, and gives away prizes that encourage health and exercise. Just about every commercial Michelob releases features people running, lifting, or swimming, and its Super Bowl spot was no exception. Michelob has successfully coupled its light beer with an identity and mindset of fitness, and the brand looks poised to continue its growth in 2018.

The Worst

Another aspect of Market Invention is self-reinvention. Coke is clearly trying to update with its new line of flavored Diet Coke. What’s different about the new product? Trendy flavors like Ginger Lime and Zesty Blood Orange. Slimmer cans, brighter colors and new logo designs are more in line with a gourmet sparkling water than a can of soda. It’s a too-obvious attempt to win over the millennial market. The commercial itself, which features a young woman dancing and talking as she drinks a Twisted Mango Diet Coke, is awkward to watch. And because Coke is so engrained in American culture, genuine reinvention will prove difficult. Interestingly, Pepsi took the opposite approach in its ad by appealing to nostalgia and the timelessness of a good product. Whereas Coke’s advertisement came off as a pandering and half-hearted attempt at “differentiation,” Pepsi confidently presented a product in no need of an update.

At least Coke tried to deliver something new. Geico, on the other hand, continued its age-old strategy of making a funny commercial and then tacking on its infamous tagline at the end. George Washington crossing the Delaware… turnpike? Surprising! We get it. Fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance. But after many years and billions of dollars poured into this concept, it still hasn’t gotten Geico to fifteen percent or more of the market share.

Dodge made a similar decision by including a recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the commercial for its Ram trucks. This one made a little more sense. It at least included extensive video of the product in action. But there was no real message sent about the trucks, only an attempt to evoke a feeling, much like T-Mobile’s commercial. If these companies had a strategy oriented around Market Invention, they wouldn’t need such an over-reliance on emotional appeal. But because they are surviving by imitating the competition, they turn to melodramatic ads devoid of any real content. It’s much easier to play on emotion than to identify problems and offer new solutions.

Super Bowl commercials may be, as cynics claim, nothing more than an exercise in vanity for big companies with money to waste. And maybe the idea of creating positive brand image is fair. It’s the Super Bowl, after all. People need some humor and distraction to break up the intensity of the year’s biggest game. But there’s no reason that positivity, humor, and brand image couldn’t be leveraged for Market Invention; entertainment and good marketing are not mutually exclusive. It should be expected that companies who used Super Bowl air time to promote a Market Invention, like TD Ameritrade and Michelob, will benefit the most from their investment. We can also predict that companies like Geico, since they clearly have nothing new to offer consumers, will continue to follow the leaders.


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