Advertising is a fact of most business life and there are many ways it can go wrong. You might have an invisible ad, for example, or be victim of a scheme to fraudulently overstate how much activity there has been.
But there are more basic problems that can pop up anywhere, even at the Super Bowl. Derek Rucker, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, watched the ads during the game and then ran through some observations with me that could help many marketers.
Emotion isn't enough
"A lot of the ads were emotional, like trying to be sentimental and pull the heartstrings," Rucker said. "In past years, a lot of brands were funny and the two or three were emotional and took attention. When everyone [plays on emotion], it's not enough." You're part of a crowd, then. To stand out, "creative concepts are important." See what your competitors are doing and find a way to differentiate not only your messages, but your delivery.
In addition to differentiating from other emotional ads, there needs to be something behind the message. "When you go emotional with your brand, your brand still has to be relevant," Rucker said. He talked about the Nissan spot with a day spending time with his kids to the tune of Harry Chapin's Cat's in the Cradle. "This [spot] isn't about Nissan. This is about the father and son and relationship. I don't think about that car or the brand associations." Make sure the ad is saying something that serves the business and brand. There was also the additional sticky point of Chapin having died in a car crash.
Keep your creative up
Three mobile game companies had ads for their titles. "These were three rookies, if you will," Rucker said. "They varied in performance. Some literally aired stuff you'd see in normal advertising or online." But it was the Super Bowl. You have to meet consumer expectations and "create spots of higher value." Do that, like Clash of Clans did when it told a story that involved Liam Neeson echoing of his character in the Taken movie series. Bring your A game even if it's not at the Super Bowl. "The best ads have great strategy and great creative." They also get more shares beyond the initial context.
Be sparing with the celebrities
Speaking of Neeson, not all companies were successful in using celebrities. Rucker thought that Esurance missed the boat in using both Lindsay Lohan and Brian Cranston. "Keep in mind that just having celebrities is just not enough," Rucker said. "They were so incidental to the brand that it was not brand-building. These are tactics, but they're not enough to win it by themselves."
Remember the audience context
Maybe being edgy can be useful. But it isn't always. Nationwide insurance flopped with its commercial with the spirit of a kid who had died talking about the things he would never do. "Kids are asking their parents, 'What was that about?'" Rucker said. "They went too dark and didn't recover from it. We have to walk the line between interesting and clever and having conversations with people we don't want to have or don't fit the tone of the event."
Know what to do after you have someone's attention
Squarespace started well and then fumbled badly, according to Rucker. "They had Jeff Bridges ohming," he said. "It was a good job of getting attention, but nothing came afterwards that made sense to the consumer. Let's always remember to be asking the question, 'Once you've got their attention, what do you want to do with it?'"
Pick and choose where you place an ad
"I was surprised that brands appeared at half time," Rucker said. "You're hoping people stay for the [halftime] show. You're wagering that they don't use half time for breaking." But if they do head off to refill snacks or do something else, what might well cost a premium could fall short in what it could deliver. Marketers need to consider what they will pay and what they will get for it. "What could you do with that [money] in other media forms?"