Marketing Lessons from The Best & Worst Super Bowl LI Commercials

by Syrup | Feb 6, 2017

Super Bowl LI was full of both good and bad. While I’m not quite ready to talk about the game just yet, it’s time to talk Super Bowl ads. Here are the best, the worst, and the marketing lessons we can all learn from them.

The best:

Bai: Definitely a crowd favorite (and not just because of JT). As soon as Christopher Walken came on screen, everyone around me hushed and turned up the volume. Bai knows that people have struggled with the pronunciation of their name since its origin. And what better way to tell us than with two well-known celebrities, a well-known song, and a little bit of awkwardness? This ad targeted the right people, caught everyone’s attention, and may have just started something huge — next time you pass a shelf full of Bai drinks, what song will you be singing?

The lesson: Make something that lasts.

Buick: This commercial played on the idea that Buicks aren’t supposed to be cool. While our perceptions of the brand may never change (how many of you still associate Buicks with your grandparents?), any kid who sees this commercial is going to associate Buick with humor, Cam Newton, and Miranda Kerr. So maybe they’ll grow up with a whole new perception of Buick. Or maybe Millennials will start buying Buicks earlier on in their lives because now they’re getting a better name for themselves. The important thing here is to know what your audience thinks of your brand (remember those Prius commercials from last year’s Super Bowl that we’re still talking about today?).

The lesson: Good or bad, capitalize on your audience’s perceptions of you.

Tide: I have a hard time calling this just a commercial. It was an intriguing story that went way beyond that. People were tweeting about Bradshaw’s stain, and I felt like I was part of his journey.

The lesson: When it comes to marketing, you can’t limit your efforts to one tactic; you have to approach marketing from every angle. Tell a story, and appeal to every member of your audience, just like Bradshaw and his stain.

Alfa Romero: The Alfa Romero commercials were intriguing, but not necessarily anything special. However, there’s one fundamental thing they got right: frequency. No, their commercials weren’t the ones we’ll all be talking about in a year, but everyone saw their name multiple times throughout the night. Alfa Romero doesn’t have the greatest reputation, but they used the Super Bowl as a time to slowly change that.

The lesson: As marketers, we often get so caught up in how unique we can make our tactics, when sometimes, the best way to get started is simply by getting your message out there at the right frequency.

NFL: This is a great example of sticking with what you know and keeping it simple. The NFL has done a similar ad before, and it worked. Stick with what works, but make it better — which is exactly what the NFL did here. They grabbed the attention of everyone: from the die-hard sports fans to the moms who have soft spots for cute babies.

The lesson: Keep it simple. 

Airbnb: Airbnb made a statement with this one, and while it didn’t necessarily tell us what they do, we did feel a little more connected to them. As an Airbnb user, I was indifferent until I received an email following the ad to show me how Airbnb is helping and how I can help, too.

The lesson: In marketing, you have to remember to not only focus on new customers, but to focus on your existing customers as well. Sometimes that means putting out a statement to make your crowd feel a little closer.

The worst:

Ford: Relating to everyone is important, and this ad definitely does that. But does it really give me a reason to buy a Ford? Yes, this ad held my attention until the end. Yes, it made me start asking the question, “who’s going to help me when I’m stuck?” But I still don’t have the “why” behind this ad. New technology? Great! Tell me how you’re different from the rest.

The lesson: When you’re in a competitive market, you have to sell the why; it’s not enough to simply tell me you understand my struggles.

Honda: This was an interesting one. While it captured my attention, I’m never going to remember that it was an ad for Honda. I’m going to remember that some brand brought a yearbook to life. Do your marketing efforts make your audience remember your brand, or just how cool your technology is?

The lesson: Don’t worry about being the next coolest thing or using the latest tools if it doesn’t make sense for your brand.

Snickers: When I heard there would be a live commercial at the Super Bowl, I was fascinated. How would a brand pull that off? Then came Snickers. While it was a cool idea, I felt lost the entire time. After it ended, it left me questioning whether that was actually it or not. Did I miss something? No, it simply didn’t live up to its hype.

The lesson: When we hype something up or our audience expects something really unique, execution is everything.

Turkish airlines: Do you always need a celebrity to promote your brand? Not if it doesn’t fit. We all listened to this commercial because it’s Morgan Freeman, but did we really listen to what he said? We listened because of him, not because of the brand. And that’s dangerous.

The lesson: Find what fits.

About the author