Business Week: 10 Marketing Rules from Super Bowl Ads


Super Bowl season is once again sweeping the entire nation and even other regions of the world. Football fans put their game faces on, while marketers see this as a crucial opportunity to advertise their brands and take advantage of the global attention.

Steve Mckee of Business Week shared a post on what marketers can learn from this event, especially in terms of branding focus, strategy and line of attack.


The concepts needed for a winning Super Bowl campaign are the same for any powerful, year-round marketing program, regardless of the size of your company or budget. By analyzing the winners and losers from among hundreds of contenders, I’ve identified 10 rules that make winning campaigns work. See how they apply to your marketing efforts:

1. Put strategy first. Creativity without strategy is ineffective. Back in 2000, when startups like and made their game-day debut, nobody understood what they were about (and the companies are both long gone). By contrast, last year Pizza Hut bought less expensive pregame commercials rather than pricey in-game spots to capture early delivery orders on the biggest pizza sales day of the year. Not terribly creative, but pretty smart.

2. Be relevant. The Super Bowl is the country’s biggest party; most advertisers know that and create fun (or funny) efforts around it. In 2003, FedEx produced a captivating takeoff on that year’s blockbuster movie Castaway, suggesting an imaginative postscript to the film.  E*Trade ran a nonsensical commercial featuring a toe-tapping monkey followed by the simple caption, “Well, we just wasted 2 million bucks. What are you doing with your money?”

3. Keep it simple. One of my favorite Super Bowl commercials is Google’s “Parisian Love.” Using minimal, almost static shots of a search on the Google home page, in less than a minute the commercial takes us from “study abroad paris france” through “impress a French girl” and “churches in Paris” to “how to assemble a crib.” It’s a charming, theater-of-the-mind love story that celebrates the role Google can play in our lives.

4. Show, don’t tell. Way back in 1974 (before Super Bowl ads were so celebrated), Master Lock ran a simple commercial called “Marksman” that showed its signature product standing up to a rifle shot. It was a demonstration far more impressive than anything the announcer could have said (one did, in fact, say a great deal, but nobody remembers what it was).

5. Invest in production values. Volkswagen’s “Imperial March” took the top honors in ADBOWL and almost all the other ratings in 2011. The premise of an aspiring Darth Vader starting his parents’ car with what he believes to be the power of the Force was cute, but what put the spot over the top was the delightfully surprised reaction of the child—even though we couldn’t see his face under the mask. That’s the mark not only of a fine young actor, but a great director.

6. Provoke thought. Apple’s “1984” is considered the granddaddy of all Super Bowl ads. The timing presented the perfect opportunity to tie the launch of Macintosh to Orwell’s famous novel, and Apple did so with incredible sophistication.

7. Strike an emotional chord. Coca-Cola was one of the first brands to leverage the incredible power of emotion. Beginning with “Mean Joe Greene” in the 1970s and continuing through the “Happiness Factory” and its well-loved Polar Bears series, Coke understands the concept of what you might call nonrational marketing. There’s a place for winning the minds of your prospects, but if someone else wins their hearts, you’ll lose.

8. Don’t rush the sale. With the hilarious “Terry Tate, Office Linebacker”campaign, Reebok had a breakout year after the 2003 Super Bowl. The company understood that the big game was all about having fun, but it also knew that 30 seconds in a crowded ad environment was too little time to do it all. The commercials were designed to draw consumers to Reebok’s website, and millions visited the site to download subsequent episodes.

9. Reward engagement. Budweiser pioneered audience engagement during the big game with its long-running “Bud Bowl” series. More recently,Doritos, through its “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, has found a way to engage its customers far in advance of the airing of the winning spot.

10. Take risks. If I had to trim this list to a single piece of advice, it would be this one. Taking risks means, by definition, doing something unexpected. Show the Budweiser Frogs commercial to a focus group and it will get lambasted. Show it to consumers during the Super Bowl and it will become a phenomenon.