Super Bowl Ads vs. Super Brands

The medium may be the message, but an ad isn’t an experience – and shouldn’t companies invest in delivering an extraordinary experience instead of spending a lot of money to broadcast a message?!

Advertising on the Super Bowl is an effective awareness builder (how many of us would know what GoDaddy is, if it hadn’t been a Super Bowl advertiser?!)  But awareness isn’t what it used to be because the traditional advertising model no longer applies.  The advertising model used to be:

Awareness –> Interest –> Desire –> Action

Now, attraction is more important than awareness.  True, a company needs to establish a certain level of awareness in order to have a viable source of business — but beyond that threshold, brand-building is less dependent upon name recognition and more reliant on brand affinity.  Do people want to do business with you?  Do they identify with your brand?  Do you share the same values they do?  A celebrity-packed ad on the Super Bowl may deliver a lot of eyeballs, but brands should be going after people’s hearts.

Interest has been replaced with influence, meaning it’s more important to influence customers than it is to simply pique their interest.  Interest is difficult to sustain these days, given people’s short attention spans. A brand’s goal should be to convey to people its superior value and convince them of its enduring relevance.   When a brand successfully influences someone, it not only produces a loyal customer – it turns her into a brand advocate who influences others.

Engagement is the new desire.  Brands should seek to connect with people emotionally and to engage them personally – otherwise, they can easily be lured away by aggressive competitors.  Making an emotional connection is not the same making people laugh.  Plenty of Super Bowl ads are entertaining — but how many of them resonate so deeply that people identify with the brand?  And none of them achieve a true personal connection.  With today’s tools, it’s easier now more than ever before to speak to customers as individuals and to tailor messages and offerings to their individual needs.  A mass media campaign may open the door to engagement, but it certainly doesn’t fulfill it.

Action in the form of a single purchase decision has become far less valuable than an ongoing relationship.  Trial remains important, but generally speaking, profitability only accompanies sustained repeat purchases.  So the initial purchase should not be considered the desired end; it’s only the beginning.  A Super Bowl ad may stimulate trial but it’s hard to see how one does much in terms of advancing customer relationships.

Now, some savvy advertisers recognize this new model of

Attraction –> Influence –> Engagement –> Relationship

and have started to use their Super Bowl ads less as isolated events and more as conversation starters.  This year, Toyota is drove viewers to Instagram and Twitter and Coca-Cola crowd-sourced its ad.  But these approaches continue to play in the realm of advertising – when the reality is, Attraction –> Influence –> Engagement –> Relationship is not an advertising model.  It’s not even a communications model – it’s a brand-building one.

To employ the Attraction –> Influence –> Engagement –> Relationship model, companies must draw from their cultures and deliver compelling customer experiences.  They need to design products and services that bond people to their brands and do business in ways that distinct and meaningful, such as Zappos’s surprise upgrades to overnight shipping and Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles.

Operationalizing their brands – not simply expressing them – is how companies build great brands. As long as companies continue to focus only on the Super Bowl, they miss out on becoming super brands.


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  • minko


    Denise, as always an interesting angle and a valid point about overloading the promotional, and particularly the advertising, aspect of a brand. But what if this reality is indeed indicative of something noteworthy. Desire, as deep as it may affect us, is still a rather superficial experience. On a very primeval level it is a short-lived attraction, an intermission between moments of gratification. Think of a dog going after a smell only to change direction drawn by a new one. There is no conscious preconceived notion in this movement. Superficiality runs rather “deep” in this sense when it comes to humans and the irony is inescapable. We “like,” both in terms of attraction and to mimic and this is as old as our culture. We communicate this way. Attraction and desire are acting similarly in this sense. Memory as a vehicle of relationships relies on emotion as the glue and this is precisely what the contemporary ads and commercials are delivering. The advertising narratives are evolving from awareness builders into pure entertainment, where “that was a great commercial but I don’t remember the brand” has become the rule. They live as intermissions on the pages of magazines, the Internet and on TV. In this sense they are pure media—relating, filling the gap between the “important” stuff. On a pure primal stimulus/response level we do “like” or dislike and we definitely relate. The relationship, however, is not necessarily to the brand but rather via the brand. Brands could be viewed as intermissions, pure media, and in this sense “the medium is the message” definitely works. So how about building backwards—from promotion to brands? Entertainment is the ultimate experience in the user ecology. Perhaps brands are doing it after all, filling those crevasses, not “in the mind” as an isolated overcrowded place but between minds to weave the texture of our humanity. Apple has built the best integrated gadget experience, hence influence. They have figured out that we all would give up our “independence” the second we are made to believe that we are different. This is why all the logic in the world can’t explain why people are hooked to a product that many claim is not the superior in terms of performance. It doesn’t make sense, but desire never does.

    Here is my chain: desire – connecting – difference.