You've got to envy the businesses creating Super Bowl ads each year. Sure it's a pressure-filled undertaking, but you get access to millions of people who are essentially a captive audience, and even look forward to these ads as they eat finger foods and drink beer.

Wouldn't you love that kind of attention and buzz for your startup?

Triumphant (and not so triumphant) Super Bowl ads can teach entrepreneurs how to find success with their own marketing strategies on much smaller budgets. Here are some of those lessons.

It's about the customer, not you.

Make your marketing primarily about the customer. Address what they actually want rather than what your company does or even what you think your prospects want. Your marketing doesn't have to directly state that it's your brand doing these things; audiences can figure that out. Instead, use these messages to focus on how the product makes a positive difference for customers.

As an example, Amazon's Alexa Loses Her Voice ad shows customers, in a clever and entertaining way, how the voice-assistant helps them get things done. Celebrity participants fill in for the voice of Alexa when she apparently gets sick and can't continue answering queries. Audiences enjoyed the humor used to show how the virtual-assistant improves their lives.

Brands like Wix crafted their ads around the customer's needs and desires. In Wix's case, the company showed audiences how to build a website in under a minute in its real-time ad. Audiences knew it was a Wix-sponsored ad, but the focus of the marketing message was on what would most interest the end user. You should be making this your focus as well.

Make the emotional connection.

Focus on making or pointing out an emotional connection between your brand and the customer. A good example is Pepsi's Every Generation Super Bowl spot. The ad took a nostalgic look back at the ads the company had produced over the years that represented various generations, compiling them into a single production. There was something for each demographic to connect with and relate to, including recognizable celebrities, fashion, and music.

Toyota's ad with Olympic paraplegic athlete Lauren Woolstencroft created emotional connections by following her journey through life to winning Olympic gold. This touching commercial resonated with audiences because of an authentic connection with the human desire to succeed, even (or especially) against significant odds.

Marketing can be meaningful without being manipulative. Keep this lesson in mind as you tell the world about your company.

Be a force for social good.

Your audience members are looking for a brand they can admire and trust. Focus on authentic social good at the heart of your culture and business model. Then illustrate that in your marketing initiatives just like Budweiser did with its ad "Stand By You."

The spot shows how the company helped areas struck by environmental disaster. The ad included scenes where assembly line workers stopped putting beer into cans, and instead filled them with water, which were then delivered to victims hit hard by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as by the California wildfires in 2017.

Marketing initiatives tend to resonate more with today's audiences when you shift your focus away from selling or sending messages about making money, to sharing real-world examples of social issues the brand is passionate about or where it's making a difference.

2017 research by Cone Communications found 63 percent of Americans were "hopeful businesses will take the lead to drive social and environmental change."

In Budweiser's case, the brand illustrated how it appreciates its customers and believes it has a responsibility to be a good corporate citizen.

Don't confuse, underpromise, or overdeliver.

Even the Super Bowl ads that failed can offer lessons for small business marketers about what to avoid. In the case of Pringles, even one of my favorite comics, Bill Hader, couldn't rescue their commercial. That's because the ad was too vague in highlighting the flavor variety available. There was no central point to the marketing message, leaving many people confused and unsatisfied.

Then, there's Febreze's "Bleep Don't Stink" ad, which proves that bathroom humor is usually not a marketing win and should probably be avoided. No matter what the culture or generation, ads about pooping or other topics most people don't like to discuss shouldn't be the focus of your marketing campaign. Even toilet paper brands know that it's an idea that can ostracize a big portion of the audience.

Understanding what won points with viewers and what fell flat with them helps you craft a clear game plan for approaching your own marketing initiatives. And, with just weeks to go until Super Bowl LIII on February 3, 2019, we'll undoubtedly find more marketing lessons from the ads during that game.

Published on: Jan 18, 2019