Budweiser's heartwarming 2014 Super Bowl commercial (in which a puppy befriends a horse) has been ranked the most popular ad ever to air in the 50-year history of the NFL's premier event, according to a study from TiVo. That's largely because the company took the time to develop a plot line.
When it comes to advertising, "simple is not always good," says Gareth Schweitzer, co-founder and president of Kelton Global. His New York City-based marketing and research firm has worked with such major brands as Target, Domino's, and General Electric.
The beer company's 90-second "Puppy Love" commercial does more than depict the friendship between two (adorable) furry animals. As the puppy repeatedly attempts to escape the kennel and find the Clydesdale, a relationship also develops between the kennel owner and the horsekeeper. The ad culminates when horses bar the puppy from leaving in a car, and the humans consent to let them play together in peace.
"Budweiser is taking you on an emotive journey, and they're using storytelling to do it," Schweitzer says.
When it comes to viral marketing, here are 3 lessons to take away from Budweiser's brilliant ad:
1. Speaking to America's past
While many Super Bowl ads try to reel in viewers with humor, Schweitzer says that sentiment is actually much more effective.
Budweiser's ad is wrapped up in "vintage Americana," grabbing viewers with a farm, workers, and the overall agrarian setting, he says. "There's something very fundamental about that."
It was even able to stand out among odder campaigns that year (for instance, a twerking M&M).
2. Don't be overly flashy about the product
What's notable about the commercial is that viewers don't realize they're watching a beer commerical--that is, until the very last frame.
Schweitzer says this is a good thing: What the company lacks in direct branding, it makes up for in subtlety.
"Clydesdales are so iconic they don't even need to mention that it's Budweiser," he said.
Customers are more incentivized to buy when they don't read the marketing as heavy-handed.
3. A classic theme can include a modern touch
Although rooted in a classic, American theme, the "Puppy Love" commercial still feels timely because it incorporates Passenger's hit song, "Let Her Go," which topped the Billboard charts in the adult pop category the following week.
This stands in contrast to the "catchy jingle" method of marketing, which Schweitzer isn't a big fan of. "You use a jingle to get over the fact that you don't necessarily have anything vital to say," he says.
As a growing body of research suggests that Millennials shell out more for experiences than physical things, consider letting your next ad tell a story, rather than falling back on the crutch of a joke.