Ad agencies should be on their game the year round
By Patrick Hunt
Patrick Hunt is president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Hunt Adkins, a brand communications and advertising agency.
While most viewers can't recall the final score of last year's football finale, many can recite their favorite ad. Those same viewers tune in year after year to see what the folks at Anheuser Busch, Doritos, Volkswagen and Best Buy have created.
The advertisers have got us. And if truth be told, many of us like being got because for one Sunday each year advertisers pull out all the stops to create entertaining ads that we actually want to watch. It's one of those rare times when advertising works as it should, and also the reason companies spend millions to develop and secure 30-second spots during the most watched television broadcast of the year.
The Super Bowl has become one of the most effective awareness-building advertising tools for broad-interest products and services because companies choose to captivate us with ads that make us laugh.
Have you noticed that companies known for their straightforward, stoic ads the other 364 days of the year choose Super Bowl Sunday to lighten up and have a little fun? Case in point: cars. All year long, automotive companies use beauty shots with liquid light and voiceovers presenting a point-by-point list of differentiators. But when they get to the Super Bowl, it's a competition to find the next Seinfeld.
The fact of the matter is humor works. People like comedy. And the ads that make us laugh also are the ones that typically become fan favorites. The University of Wisconsin even did a study that proved using humor boosts the likability of Super Bowl ads.
What makes a humorous ad work when there are thousands of shades of humor? It's about creating meaning, resonance and, ultimately a relationship with the brand.
"The Force" from Volkswagen is charming humor. It resonates with parents who grew up with "Star Wars" and kids who adopted it. But in the end, the efficacy of the spot has to do more with leveraging the truth of a parent's love for their child.
The best Super Bowl spots of all time were the ones that became iconic, either because they were so breakthrough (like Apple's "1984") or they contributed to something that became a part of everyday pop culture (like Budweiser's "Wassup"). That's extraordinarily difficult to do, and impossible to do without being different.
But in both cases, the advertiser leveraged a truth — the fear of being a mindless follower, the value of friendships — as opposed to a transactional point of difference or one in a long list of features.
I would challenge companies to take a page from the Super Bowl advertising and social media playbook and put as much into everyday advertising as they do into the big game. Firms that take chances, use humor and engage on a personal level, and do it well, will be rewarded. Because buyers aren't going to follow unless given a reason to do so — more than once a year.