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Brand Leadership Insights from Super Bowl LIII

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As the Pats and the Rams played an (incredibly) defensive game, this year’s crop of commercials played it safe. There were a few standouts that offer insights into brand, design, and marketing.

1. Own the entire experience.

Pepsi had such a massive brand presence for the big game and did a tremendous amount of work to really own the entire experience. Not just the Halftime Show, they canvas the town, billboards, OOH, the stadium fan experience, mobile integration, limited edition packaging, etc. There is also the added layer of Pepsi coming into the home of Coke in which they got some good burns in the spirit of friendly competition.

Doing an activation on this scale is a heavy lift. Nice tip of the hat to Mauro Porcini, Matthieu Aquino, Ron Burrage (the new head of US), and Design team. From similar experience, it’s not easy to lead all of that work at scale. Nice Job.

2. If you can’t own it, be strategic.

Coke opted not to have a placement during the game and instead went before the national anthem and highlight the brand’s history of diversity, inclusion, and togetherness. Smart copy, beautiful animation, and it had a nice feeling of the famous 1971 Hilltop ad.

3. Celebrate the unique aspect of your audience and empower them.

Historically the game is male-focused in its marketing content, but female fans make up ~45% of the demographic. That’s a unique aspect of the user experience that can’t be neglected.

Serena Williams spoke about empowerment for Bumble. As far as dating apps go, that’s smart positioning in an over-saturated market.

The theme continued with CBS running a thoughtful PSA for Girls Inc. The spot shows that when girls are confident and work together, they can succeed at the highest levels. That’s the type of message that should be top-line for any brand, not just the nonprofits.

On the funny side of empowerment, Olay leveraged Sarah Michelle Gellar - the scream queen and slayer of big bads - in its narrative of Killer Skin. It was a great twist and elevated the product. Not bad for their first-ever Super Bowl spot, not bad at all.

Props to Small Girls and Mallory Blair for their work with Olay.

4. Give the core what they want.

Not a lot of blockbuster movie promo during the game, but between Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, and Hobbs & Shaw the bar for spectacle knows no bounds. For these brand tentpoles, the stakes are higher, the plot is increasingly ridiculous, and the action is more explosive.

Just take my money.

5. People like puzzles.

Milton Glaser taught about the best examples of design and marketing have a puzzle for the audience to figure out. From the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo to “Who is Keyser Söze?”, people like to discover things.

The Walmart commercial promoted a new drive up/pick up service and packed it with famous cars from movies and pop-culture. There is a great audience satisfaction in discovering and identifying all of the vehicles. Everything from the Scooby-Doo’s Mystery machine to Back To The Future’s DeLorean.

The NFL had a similar take for announcing their 100 Season of the game. Full of surprise cameo’s and inside jokes.

6. Your brand Is measured by your audience.

The impact of your message is measured at the how well it was received. The two examples of this were The Bud Light/Game of Thrones crossover and the Andy Warhol Burger King spot. Both commercials had a sense of unexpected surprise, but by the very next commercial I found myself asking “Why?” and “What was the message?”. Maybe it was just to get people talking.

You can do some very light googling and find drafted statements on the creation and justification for both of those placements - which is impressive in its own right.

7. Do good.

It’s comforting to see big brands shine a light on things that they care about and align themselves with something good. Verizon followed up last year’s spot with another heartfelt thank you to first responders. Microsoft highlights accessible technology in an aspirational way. Google had two. One reminds us of the power in connecting across language and the other supporting Vets.

Nice flex from Diego Scotti at Verizon, Chris Capossela at Microsoft, and Lorraine Twohill and Corey duBrowa at Google.

8. Be reflective of the culture.

In a last-minute decision, The Washington Post decided to run a spot about the importance of a free press. Using captivating historic photos and current news clips, the Post reminds us about the importance of gathering facts. “Knowing empowers us. Knowing helps us decide. Knowing keeps us free. For more than 140 years The Washington Post has been a key part of democracy, holding government accountable and safeguarding the interests of readers”.

What did I miss? Were there any other lessons from this year's crop of commercials or any spots that made the grade or missed the mark?

Don't miss Andrew speak at FUSE 2019 in Chicago on Wednesday, April 10th at 11:30 AM. To read about his workshop "Personal Strategies for Executive Design Leadership" and learn more about FUSE, click here! 

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