Digital Strategy: Why Super Bowl Ads Don’t Need To Be Engaging

Super Bowl Ad Strategy

Recently the super smart Jeff Rohrs of ExactTarget/Salesforce wrote a great post about the lack of CTA’s (Call to Action) in Super Bowl ads. You can read it here. In it, Jeff makes the argument that Super Bowl advertisers that fail to place a mobile friendly CTA in their ads are guilty of “marketing malpractice” and should rethink their marketing strategies.

I have to disagree with my pal Jeff. There are a number of valuable marketing strategies that don’t require placing CTA’s in your Super Bowl Ads.

Let me lay out my points here and then I invite you to join Jeff and me next week on Wednesday, February 18th @ 11:45am CENTRAL TIME for #DayChat where he and I will continue to debate all of this live. Of course, you’re invited to join in as well. Not sure if Jeff and I will opt for stiff drinks too… but definitely a good debate. (Don’t know how to participate in a TwitterChat or even what one is — here is a TwitterChat Primer I created for you)

Consumers Won’t Act on Super Bowl Ads

In his post, Jeff noted that research shows 61% of consumers planned to watch the Super Bowl with mobile phone in hand and thus advertisers who didn’t have a mobile friendly CTA were missing a huge opportunity.

Maybe… or maybe not.

I had my phone in my hand (actually my pocket most of the time) as did everyone else at the Super Bowl parties I attended. So I don’t disagree with the WHAT that Jeff notes (phones in hand) but I think he and I disagree on the WHY (do consumers have their phones).

I just don’t buy that consumers are waiting to click on that mobile friendly CTA. They’re watching the commercials for the pure entertainment value and usually begin to immediately comment and discuss the goodness/badness of each ad almost immediately. So in this kind of environment, will they really act on your mobile CTA?

They have their phones to text, tweet and post comments to their friends (about the ads) who aren’t at the party. At least that is the behavior I usually see. So phones in hands is more of a correlation vs causation thing IMO. But if you see something different, let me know in the comments or chime in on the 18th.

Super Bowl Ads Have To Fulfill Your Marketing Strategies

Jeff went on to say that “ALL MARKETING IS DIRECT.” Having done a good bit of direct response marketing in my day, I’d say that if Jeff is right (and I’m not agreeing to that yet) then all Super Bowl ads would need to be strategically crafted to drive CTA activation. That would be the strategic marketing goal stated in the creative brief.

Thus, each brand would need to develop a meaningful enough CTA and then reverse engineer a compelling and entertaining 30 second storyline capable of capturing a Super Bowl watching consumer’s attention, holding it for 30 seconds (remember you’re still competing for the bathroom run, beer run, and all that munchie goodness laid out in the kitchen) and then converting that attention into a compelling reason to act on the CTA at that very moment.

For some products, that might be doable.

But let’s be honest here… for most products, that’s darn hard if not impossible. I mean seriously, what is Snickers going to do to activate a mobile CTA outside of maybe a mobile coupon? Again, feel free to disagree in the comments or on Twitter or join us in the #DayChat next week.

Great Marketing Strategies Are Integrated

When folks suggest that a Super Bowl ad has to have a CTA or drive action in the moment (a very direct marketing mindset) they are guilty of over-simplifying the consumer purchase process. I call it the Trout and Ries Effect. It just doesn’t work like that folks. That’s last attribution thinking and it often leads brands to make poor long-term strategic marketing investment decisions.

Just because a marketing channel can’t be tracked (in terms of clicks or real-time activations) or doesn’t include a direct call-to-action doesn’t mean it lacks value in the integrated marketing scheme. Brands that play in the Super Bowl are using those spots as part of a larger integrated marketing strategy. So while the individual ads may not pay out on their own, their contribution to the effectiveness of the other channels could easily make the investment worthwhile.

What’s The Value of Conversation?

Our tagline here at Converse Digital is turning conversations into customers. It’s what we do for our clients every day. So yes, I’m a bit biased but the creation, stimulation or continuation of conversations related to a brand’s advertisements has value in and of itself.

Take the controversial Nationwide Dead Kid spot. No call to action there… and the company even said the ad wasn’t designed to sell insurance but instead to stimulate conversation around a topic near and dear to Nationwide’s heart.

But ask yourself this. How many people started a conversation with a person they knew worked for Nationwide or sold Nationwide insurance policies because of that ad? How many Nationwide insurance agents benefitted from conversations initiated by the spot?

Think about it.

You’re at a Super Bowl party and your pal Tom is an agent. The spot runs and you turn to ask Tom what he thinks or you just share your thoughts. A handful of others in the room, unaware of what Tom does for a living, begin to engage as well upon realizing Tom is a Nationwide agent.

Now if Tom’s smart, or should I say, if Nationwide had thought through the spot and reaction, they would have trained Tom to engage politely, share the company line and then ask if anyone would be willing to email him their thoughts because “the marketing folks up at corp are really interested in hearing the feedback.”

Not everyone would take the time to do it… but enough would.

Now Tom and Nationwide have permission to have a conversation. Not about insurance per se, but about protecting children.

And the opportunity to maintain contact is born.

Remember, every purchase begins with a question or an introduction.

At $4.5MM plus let’s say a million to produce the spot — how many of those conversations need to convert to customers to make the Nationwide spot a good investment? And what is the ROI timeline we should apply to this investment decision?

Remember, insurance is the product that keeps on selling… year, after year, after year. So the lifetime value of even one of those conversations converting to a customer could easily run into six figures.

Again, do the math…. it doesn’t take a lot of conversions to make the ROI equation positive.

What’s The Role of Super Bowl Advertising?

It depends. And that’s the whole point of this post. Whether you’re talking about a Super Bowl ad or an email campaign execution — think about the role of that tactic within the larger overarching marketing strategies.

Then based on the role, figure out creatively speaking how best to accomplish that role in the most cost efficient manner.

And finally, make sure that no tactic lives on an island… everything you do should lead to or link to at least one other marketing channel activity.

That’s the Super Bowl of marketing folks.

Join The Super Bowl Ad Debate

Come join Jeff and me on Wednesday, February 18th @ 11:45am central time for #DayChat where he and I will continue the debate all of this live. We’d love to have you chime in as well to ensure a smart debate… possibly over stiff drinks.

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About Tom Martin

Tom is 20+ year veteran of the marketing and advertising industry with a penchant for stiff drinks, good debates and digital gadgets that helps digitally challenged companies create innovative and effective digital marketing strategies. He is the founder of Converse Digital , author of The Invisible Sale and a contributing writer for Advertising Age. Tom guides clients through the digital marketing maze and helps companies teach their sales force how to Painlessly Prospect their way to more sales. Connect with him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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