Advertising's "Silly Season" or Why The Super Bowl is The Worst Thing That Ever Happened To Advertising

The objective of advertising and marketing is to sell product.  Period.  Both have absolutely zero business value outside of their ability to move consumers to buy.  More frequently than you'd think, ad agencies get caught - essentially - running in place.  They come up with admittedly great creative ideas designed to catch one's eye, create a laugh, or otherwise pierce through the veil of consumer awareness.  Unfortunately, though, the work is more focused on presenting the "cool idea" behind the spot as opposed to delivering a compelling strategic message grounded in consumer insights that will actually send people to the stores to buy.  So, while the spot may be a great piece of "micro-cinema", it might not be a comparably effective piece of persuasive communication.  The Super Bowl represents the uber personification of this dilemma.


The Super Bowl is the time when advertising agencies pull out all the stops to present their "best work".   While their clients are the ones paying for the advertising as well as the exorbitant media costs, the creative folks seem to see this more as a platform for them to strut their stuff.  Sometimes it seems that the ad agencies are more focused on competing with each other for post game media acclaim rather than viewing the Super Bowl as perhaps the single greatest platform to most aggressively impact their clients' business.  


Now to be clear, we all know that there is extraordinary attention paid to Super Bowl ads; that said, almost all of it comes from people not trained to assess the strategic content of what they're watching.  Especially on the Super Bowl, people consume the ads as entertainment and assess them through that filter - as they would any other kind of television entertainment: is it funny, or cool, or sexy, or bizarre, or interesting etc.  It is perhaps the one time when many consumers actively pay attention to television ads,  but just watching something doesn't always translate into increased brand equity and purchase intent.  


A key truth that ad pros everywhere must consistently keep to heart is that just because something is entertaining, or makes you laugh, or is "cool", doesn't necessarily mean that it is good advertising.  Again, if it doesn't sell, than its not a good ad.  Some argue that merely 'grabbing eyeballs' is the objective; that creating enough buzz to elevate your brand to the forefront of America's consciousness is the key.  With brands, though, its got to be the right kind of buzz; the right message targeted to the right consumers.  If the spot isn't leveraging key consumer insights in a strategic way, then its very easy to create awareness driven by heavy media, or by its pure entertainment value, yet not increase brand preference and equity, nor sell product.  


So, over time, the enormous stage that is the Super Bowl - and the unique focus on its television ads and over-all entertainment value - has warped the tenor of its advertising from where it should be - focused squarely on creatively communicating strategic, targeted, and persuasive messages - to frequently being all about the mere short term win - the quick laugh, or the "cool" idea.  If it were just one football game then that would be one thing, but this day overly influences creative for the rest of the year leading to an over-abundance of sub-optimal, less than strategic advertising - and in that lies a serious, and longer term strategic crime. 

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Tags: Superbowl, ad, strategy

Comment by Gunnar Branson on February 23, 2011 at 1:10am
Thank you for saying what needs to be said - excellent analysis.


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