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Lessons from Super Bowl Ads

With the Super Bowl behind us, let’s take a minute to think about two of the more memorable commercials from the big game and how their marketing lessons might apply to professional services.

“Transactions” – Seinfeld Acura NSX Spot

Nostalgia – The spot harkens back to the heydays of Seinfeld when his show was popular and the economy seemed bulletproof. For professional services organizations, the message might be, “We’re you’re trusted partner in helping you return to better times.”

Humor – Seinfeld’s humor has always been observational and this ad deviates little from this, except for the absurdity factor. It’s OK for lawyers and accountants to employ humor, as long as it is smart and strategic. Seinfeld is not a comedian that uses dirty jokes or those considered offensive. This blend of self-deprecating, observational styling works well when professional service companies employ humor.

Client Service – All companies should be doing, to a less hyperbolic extent, what Seinfeld is doing – actively working for ways to please customers from the traditional to the experimental. We also see this method at work in the Nationwide Insurance commercials featuring an agent endlessly devoted to personal service.

Unintended Messaging – When Jay Leno swoops in with his jetpack and one-ups Seinfeld, the lesson is that competition is fierce, client service is paramount and innovation and differentiation is key.

“It’s Halftime in America” – Chrysler

Grit – A steel furnace, the empty shell of a building, an auto manufacturing plant, cranes – all images that invoke an industrial, tough nature. Couple these with a narration about job losses and tough times and you have an ad that speaks to the economic times we are in. If applicable to your organization, work in some traditional shots of industry – energy or manufacturing. These images invoke productivity and stand in contrast to the image of the well-heeled power broker. (The Gordon Gekko look is out of style.)

Comeback – Halftime in America invokes the sense that we can come back and that things will, or are, improving. We are finding a way through tough times. Positive messaging works well in a down economy.

Emotional Targeting – Listen to the music and you get a sense of how this ad was designed to hit the viewer on an emotional level. Targeting an emotional response – here perhaps pride or patriotism – is a risky business. The ad is not so much about cars as it is about America. Any time you play with emotion, you risk turning off viewers who do not enjoy tactics such as gritty images, flags and sweeping scores. A recent example of this is the criticism leveled on the movie Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close which wrestles with the time immediately after 9/11. At times, emotional targeting works well – see the “Think Different” campaign by Apple. Other times, at least for me, such targeting comes across as manipulative and cheap.

Unintended Messaging – Clint Eastwood, narrator and director of the ad, has voted Republican since the 1950s and yet there are some who call the ad little more than a payback of sorts for the Obama administration, which provided financial assistance and helped in the bankruptcy proceeding of the ad’s sponsor Chrysler. Yikes.

The reason why marketing and communications professionals exist is to think more than surface deep about messaging. The intended message can be lost or flat out misinterpreted. A great recent example of this was the bizarre milk ads that ran in California trying to trumpet how milk could help women fend off the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. Double yikes! After a fury, the ads were pulled. One can assume that the folks at Chrysler thought extensively about the possible political implications of the commercial. The bottom line is that every piece of messaging has to be reviewed and vetted extensively by savvy professionals who can point out potential traps or double meanings.

–  Michael Bond

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