Friday, February 15, 2013

The Super Bowl, Advertising, and the Customer Experience

Image credit: Tom Fishburne, Marketoonist
Did you watch the Super Bowl for the game? Or did you watch for the commercials? What did you think of the commercials?

Robert Stephens of Geek Squad said, "Advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable." After the Super Bowl, I tweeted: "Advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable. What happens when your advertising is unremarkable too?"

I don't know; was it me, or was this one of the worst Super Bowls for commercials? I wasn't impressed. I kept thinking, "Wow. These advertisers must think their customers are all stupid. Or they just don't know their customers." I had some friends text me the same thought, and I've read other reviews that weren't so kind.

I think the commercials have really gotten to be more about the company than the customer, if that makes sense. It's like they've all been reduced to: "Let's try so hard to make something cute and something funny so that people will talk about how clever we are and forget about how awful we are to them."

What's the purpose of advertising? I went to Entrepreneur magazine for a great definition and list of its purposes:

Advertising provides a direct line of communication to your existing and prospective customers about your product or service. The purpose of advertising is to:
  • Make customers aware of your product or service;
  • Convince customers that your company's product or service is right for their needs;
  • Create a desire for your product or service;
  • Enhance the image of your company;
  • Announce new products or services;
  • Reinforce salespeople's messages;
  • Make customers take the next step (ask for more information, request a sample, place an order, and so on); and
  • Draw customers to your business.
I'd add that it supports the brand purpose and the brand promise - and helps to create the connection and that desire to belong to that brand. How about throwing in something about the customer experience, their people, etc. (Maybe "the helpful Honda guy" was the closest commercial to achieving that?)

These commercials during the Super Bowl tried so hard that they failed. Too many of them caused us to scratch our heads and say, "Huh?" And while that's memorable, it's memorable for the wrong reason. And then * poof * ... that memory is gone.

I tend to (no, I do) agree, though, with Robert Stephens. I'll pull Zappos into this and say that I've never seen a commercial for Zappos, and I can't remember the last time I saw one for Amazon, and yet today, when I go shopping, I will buy something from one of those sites. Why? Because I've had great experiences with both. Not because of a cutesy commercial.

The good news (or bad news) is that, here it is a few days later, and I don't really remember much about the Super Bowl commercials anymore. There were a couple of memorable ones, but other than the reviews by the media and by bloggers, they are already all a distant memory. Pretty sad for those companies who spent $4 million for a 30-second spot, only to get zero recall out of it.

Much can be learned from the likes of Zappos, Amazon, Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton, and other service notables. Save your money. Spend your advertising budget on things that matter: the employee and the customer experiences.

The consumer isn't a moron. She is your wife. -David Ogilvy


  1. Annette,

    I like your point, spend your advertising budget on the things that matter.

    To twist your story slightly. In the UK we have the public service channel, the BBC. We pay for it by a tax (the television licence) rather than by watching adverts.

    I think the BBC provides some of the best television in the world (as a Brit, I could be biased). Why is the BBC so good? Because it is focused on what matters to its customers (great TV)

    It is a tangental argument, but I think it reinforces your point.


    On a separate irrelevant note, why do Americans call it football but play it with their hands?

    1. LOL... that's a fair question that I think many people would like to know the answer to!

      Thanks, James, I appreciate the example. Great to show that it actually works. Put your money toward what matters and where it has the greatest impact. Public television, supported by the public, should give the public what they want. (In the US, we have PBS; not sure how the two would compare.)

  2. Hi Annette,
    I had the privilege of interviewing Gary Vaynerchuk the other day and he mentioned something about Superbowl advertising where he said: "People often talk about how people and service doesn’t ‘scale’, especially on social media. However, Gary doesn’t necessarily agree with that and is more focused on using money in your business where it will generate returns. For example: rather than spending $3 million on a Superbowl ad why not hire 60 people at $50k a year to deliver better service on Twitter or other social media channels or give this budget to an agency to deliver it for you."

    I thought it was a really interesting comment and a really good way of being remarkable.

    What do you think?


    1. Thanks, Adrian, for your example, as well. I absolutely agree... invest where it really matters, where the business can do something remarkable. And then the advertising budget can pretty much go away. The brand, the experience ... speaks for itself.

      Annette :-)

  3. For starters, thank you Annette for this lovely post. Like many people all over the world, I too watch the NFL. Giants fan here. Sadly I have to endure watching these horrible ads that clearly don't make their specific clients any richer.

    I totally agree with Adrian, what they pay to make ads should be diverted to another project since they are not going to make any money out of such an ad unless they have endorsements which is a different matter.

    Since I'm not from America I was wondering if the ads part of the Super Bowl is also part of the American tradition. Is that right?

    1. Andy, thanks for reading and for your comment. I'm sorry that you're a Giants fan. ;-) LOL.

      Agree, that ads don't appear to make their clients richer. They are (much) less than memorable!

      Yes, in the US, the commercials are as highly anticipated as the game itself.

      Annette :-)

  4. Annette,
    Great post. To quote a favorite line, "Marketing in the future will be like sex. Only the losers will pay for it."
    Invest in your customers and the experience or face being cast into the sea of sameness.
    Warmest regards,

    1. Thanks, Stan. Love that! And yes, invest in those things tha matter - your customers.

      Annette :-)

  5. Very interesting post. Thanks, I've learned a lot reading it ! Anyway, guess the best way is to have good content on your blog and the rest will follow, as the song sings...