Henry C. Boyd III, Clinical Professor in the Marketing Department at the Robert H. Smith School of Business
Aspiring presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg’s timing is rather canny. On the eve of the 2020 Iowa Caucuses where he doesn’t appear on the ballet, Bloomberg — front of about 100 million Super Bowl halftime viewers — will unveil a political spot reportedly to attack perhaps the most polarizing president in U.S. history – Donald Trump. This decisive act imposes big implications for next-day discussions at the water cooler and over social media platforms. It also means the specter of presidential politics will now loom large – further fueled by equal time of Trump messaging. Hence, this classic battle of conservatism versus progressivism threatens to saturate an iconic pop culture milieu to the detriment of the other Super Bowl advertisers.
Pro football, along with these other advertisers, has been poised for a revitalized stage. Fox Sports in November reported that the network has sold out Super Bowl ad spots for the Feb. 2 game, marking the first time for such a bonanza in five years. This further bucked a recent trend of networks like CBS waiting as late as hours before kickoff to fill up commercial breaks.
Fueling the upswing has been this year’s strong economy along with especially-compelling regular season narratives that are helping the NFL make a comeback in a time when traditional and reality TV are struggling to keep up. Consider the nature of the game nowadays, especially the offensive side of it, where rising stars like Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson and Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes have helped to make it thrilling to watch football.
So how should brands position themselves alongside dueling Bloomberg-Trump campaign ads? First, avoid transparently political messaging used in 2017 spots by 84 Lumber (The Journey Begins) and AirBnB (We accept). I suspect that most viewers will have been inundated with political rhetoric. Instead, savvy firms ought to lean towards entertainment-infused commercials. Second, think in terms of drama-focused advertisements and aim to spark conversation on social media – broadly and especially among non-political junkies. I base this assertion on my doctoral dissertation research at Duke University, where I isolated key elements of drama-related advertising.
Super Bowl advertisers should approach their spots as 30-, 45- or minute-long mini plays or dramas. In each instance, the following ad elements need to positively stand out: the actors’ traits, the actors’ interactions, the dialogue, the delivery of the lines and the setting.
From the viewer’s standpoint, you naturally check all those boxes in your mind’s eye when watching a drama. If all the elements pass muster, the viewer experiences verisimilitude (i.e., a desired end state where the viewer buys into the performance). That’s a big win for any marketer. Audi’s 2017 “Daughter” spot exemplifies this – and significantly through delivering a glimpse of the future. This vision – about equal opportunity irrespective of one’s gender – significantly was portrayed in the ad between a father and daughter, making it relatable and subsequently inspiring to a large segment of viewers.
Moreover, for 2020, skip the lecture ads, especially, again, those making political statements, and go with something that draws audiences in and isn’t so explicit about the product. This will prompt viewers to draw and share their own conclusions via social media. Reward outweighs backlash risk when brands aim to inspire via social messaging. And, you have to entertain at a minimum. Effectively crafting inspirational and entertaining spots is never easy, but it’s paramount for a brand’s continued success.
About the Author: Henry C. Boyd is a Clinical Professor in the Marketing Department at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. He is also a managing director and principal at Ombudsman LLC, a diversified consultancy. He is licensed to practice law in Maryland, Wisconsin, and the U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin.
Boyd received his Ph.D. in Marketing from Duke University (with an emphasis in Consumer Behavior) and his J.D. in Intellectual Property from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At the age of 24, he received his MBA in Marketing from the University of California at Berkeley. Prior to graduate study, he obtained his A.B. in Chemistry (with an emphasis in Biophysics) from Princeton University.