Marketing without masks

The Superbowl, once a year, becomes one of those touchstone moments in marketing. It allows brands to use an occasion when they have the attention of their audience to actually project their personality.

Attention is critical. We live in an attention economy. There is never enough of it to help any brand gain the upper hand no matter how hard they advertise or how much they spend on their advertising. Which is why the Super Bowl is so important. Here you have a captive audience. More than that you actually have an audience that is using the background shared cultural experience of the event to talk about the ads displayed there.

Think about it for a moment: This is a once-a-year sporting spectacle used as an advertising showcase. Why? Because this is the chance advertisers have to wow us. To connect with us. To show us that they ‘get it’. Or not. Either way as the failed JCPenney planned drunken Tweets campaign shows the point is to show character and personality not to be cute and clever.

In the JCPenney instance the drunken Tweets were disliked by fans as they were deemed to be poking fun at the fact that some people do get inebriated during the game and yes, they do engage in Tweets that defy the laws of grammar. Other brands were quick to spot this and capitalized on it showing that beyond planning, spontaneous reactions that raise a laugh and show some humanity (even if it is based on sarcasm) are instant wins.

Last year I pointed out that the Super Bowl is really a meme and used the Samsung advert to show how easy it is to use a national sporting event to score international advertising wins.

This year’s Audi ad made waves with its Dog Show teaser:

And the ad itself:

All of this is important because in their deconstruction we can see the formula. If you want your marketing to succeed it needs to have three basic ingredients in its mix:

1. Entertainment – don’t be afraid to poke fun at yourself or take a genre apart. Raise a laugh here and the world laughs with you.

2. Information -   when you have the world’s attention what you say is every bit as important as how you say it, otherwise you end up wasting your audience’s time and achieving the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do.

3. Engagement – in a real world setting engagement requires a handle. Just like no one will strike up a conversation with a mannequin no matter how real it may look, similarly no one is likely to engage with a brand that fails to reveal its humanity, sense of humor, likes or dislikes, expertise, drives or motivation. All of these are talking points and the Super Bowl ads actually have them in spades.  

The subtext here is that if marketing now requires personality from brands, people (who one could argue, start off with a personality already) ought to be behave a little more like brands. That’s true also. The playing field has truly been levelled and though each side could, once play on its own strengths, now everyone has to learn from everyone else and work out the new tropes of reaching an audience that is connected, empowered, educated, mobile and vocal.

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