At 164 million viewers, last Sunday's Super Bowl was the most watched television event ever. Nearly half of all American houses had the game running. Just for fun, I watched with my computer on my lap and took play-by-play notes through the whole game. I figured a huge event like this would expose some valuable business lessons, and I was not disappointed. Well actually, I was a little, because the power outage messed up the recording time on my DVR causing me to miss part of the 4th quarter. Ugh!
Nevertheless, I was still able to assess the game, halftime, and the commercials, and extract some good insights you can apply in business today. Here are the key takeaways you need to be a business champion.
1. Age and Experience is a Close Match for Youth and Talent
Watching play-by-play, you couldn't help be impressed by rookie 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick's stunning performance. At the same time, veterans like Ray Lewis had significant impact on righting the Baltimore ship at the end. The combination of youth, talent and veteran experience on both teams made this one of the closest championship games in football history.
Lesson: Build a balanced team. Recruiting bright young stars while respecting the insights and stability of those with experience, will lead to superior performance.
2. Legacy Means Nothing
Kaepernick's interception in the first half caused quite a stir in the broadcast booth. They couldn't stop rambling about how no previous 49er QB ever threw a Super bowl interception. So what? Joe Montana and Steve Young weren't playing. This was a different day with different teams, coaches, and technology. The 49ers' legacy was irrelevant. What mattered were the teams on this field.
Lesson: Focus on today's needs. History is fine for inspiration and context, but winning depends on the actions you take today and how you prepare for tomorrow.
3. Make Your Own Luck
At this level of play, most of the mistakes weren't really mistakes or misfortune. For example, on closer inspection both fumbles were results of aggressive defensive players making something happen.
Lesson: Stay at the peak of your game so you can change the dynamic around you and capitalize on the smallest of opportunities.
4. Move On! Not Every Mistake Has to Be Disastrous
Both teams had their moments of greatness and both had some not-so-pretty moments as well. But neither team gave up. You have to admire the Harbaugh brothers who kept both teams focused on the opportunities ahead despite costly turnovers and penalties.
Lesson: Don't let haste or inexperience cause stupid mistakes, but if you do misjudge, get over it and keep moving forward.
5. Have Contingency Plans and Improvise
Ah yes, the blackout! I am sure many thought some sort of crisis was upon us until the broadcaster came back from the commercial and explained what was going on. Kudos to all those who did their parts to get things up and running quickly and smoothly. Most impressive was the fast thinking of the coaches, keeping discipline and preparation as the focus of both teams so they were ready to play again immediately.
Lesson: You can never predict or prepare for every emergency, but discipline, focus, and structure will get you through nearly any crisis.
6. Sell With Humor
At roughly $8 million per minute, you can bet the major companies paying for ads do their homework on what sells and what doesn't. So it's no surprise to me that funny Super Bowl ads outweighed serious ads by a 3 to 1 margin. Celebrities did their share but humor was the theme hands down. Think about which ad you talked about yesterday. Odds are that it was a funny one.
Lesson: Take advantage of big agency research. If you are selling a product, service, or even just an idea, fewer will respond if you are boring. Use humor to make your message compelling and memorable.
7. Always Be Aware of Where You Are
After a thrilling game, the story should have been the Ravens' victory and the performance on the field. Instead, the news cycle is full of stories about Jim Harbaugh acting like a sore loser and Joe Flacco dropping the F-bomb on national TV. These guys are supposed to be highly paid entertainers. They know what business they are in and yet they still disrespected their fans with their self-indulgence.
Lesson: It doesn't matter how good you are personally. If you choose to step into an arena, be it business or sport, consider the constituency around you and how to show them your respect, or you are sure to lose theirs.
One last observation to consider, especially for advertisers: without passing judgment, Beyonce's halftime show was by far the most risqué and blatantly suggestive production ever broadcast to half the country's homes in a family time-slot. (Far more sexually suggestive than Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction of 2004.) However, the relative online uproar is minor and the network approved. Does this establish a new baseline for sexual acceptability in commercial endeavors?
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