Marketers will invest millions of dollars on February 2nd running Super Bowl ads. Each thirty second spot is selling for about $4 million this year. While some of the ads will stand out, many will be ineffective. Others will actually do some damage.

In 2004, Fed Ex ran an ad on the Super Bowl that highlighted the ten things every Super Bowl ad needed to succeed. The list included a celebrity, an animal, a cute kid, and a groin kick. This year VW is running a teaser spot that features a similar theme and list.

Super Bowl Ads Evaluated for Business Impact

At the Kellogg School of Management, we’ve been evaluating Super Bowl ads for the past decade. The Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising review is unique because our focus is on business impact. Our panel of students thinks about how effective each ad will be driving sales and building the brand.

After evaluating more than a thousand Super Bowl ads, we have learned that while many spots embrace the Fed Ex formula and feature a celebrity, an animal, a cute kid, and a groin kick, there are really just four things a Super Bowl advertisement has to do in order to be successful.

1. Breakthrough the Clutter of Super Bowl Ads

The problem with the Super Bowl is that dozens of spots will run over the course of the game. As a result, an advertisement has to stand out; it can’t get lost in the clutter. It has to attract attention and different. In recent years, Intel, Dockers, Met Life and Vizio ran Super Bowl ads, but I suspect few people remember the spots.

2. Communicate a Benefit

The heart of marketing is creating strong brands that have customer advantage. To do this, you have to provide a benefit; you have to give people a reason to use a product or service.

The best Super Bowl ads do this; they clearly lay out the value proposition. In 2013, for example, Best Buy positively explained why people should shop at Best Buy instead of other retailers. The same year, Blackberry missed; instead of highlighting benefits, the brand’s Super Bowl ad explained all the things its new phone couldn’t do.

3. Have Strong Branding

All too many Super Bowl spots manage to breakthrough the clutter but have weak branding. As a result, people remember the creative execution but fail to connect it back to the brand. This is a problem; the goal of a Super Bowl spot is to build a brand, not just to entertain people.

One of the most famous Super Bowl ads featured a profile of cat herders. The spot was exceptionally funny and well produced; it was a beautiful piece of film. People noticed it and still talk about it, more than a decade later. The problem, of course, is that few people connect the spot to the brand, EDS.

Ameriquest had the same problem; the brand ran several hilarious spots on the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the branding was very weak, so while people noticed and enjoyed the commercials, the business impact was limited.

4. Don’t Offend People

Offending people is never a marketing best practice, but people working on Super Bowl ads have to be particularly careful.

The Super Bowl is unique because it has a vast audience, and people scrutinize the ads. Marketers love this and pay millions to get all the attention. The risk, however, is that it is very easy to offend certain groups. Many companies get into trouble for this; in a bid to be creative and funny, they run ads that push the limit, offend and spark a backlash. When this happens, a Super Bowl spot can become a problem. Instead of enjoying a nice sales bump, the company has to issue apologies and do damage control.

Homeway for example, got into enormous trouble when it ran a Super Bowl ad that featured a baby crashing into a plate glass window. This led to a huge outcry; people accused Homeaway of making light of head injuries, a very real problem for many families.

Successful Super Bowl Ads

The Super Bowl is a unique advertising event. The challenges, however, are similar to those marketers face every day. To be successful, it is important to attract attention, deliver a benefit, have strong branding, and avoid offending people.

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