PR Lessons from the Super Bowl: The Good, The Bad, and The Unbelievable
Updated: Nov 10, 2020
Everyone wants something from you, and it’s not your money. It’s your attention.
For every business, from the local school on your Instagram feed to giants like Amazon, there’s nothing more valuable than your attention, and it’s getting harder and harder to earn it—and keep it. After all, getting the eyeballs is just step one. What we really want is to be memorable.
At Mekky Media, we are always thinking outside the box to garner buzz for our events. I like to take notes from the Super Bowl on how to tell a memorable story quickly...it’s the only time of the year we don’t skip the commercials, after all.
The Super Bowl has a MASSIVE audience, which is why advertisers spend so much money to capture our attention for 30 seconds. Quality advertising is similar to PR because they’re both grounded in storytelling. So what can we learn from the best (and one worst) ads in recent years?
1. Amazon, Not Everything Makes the Cut, 2019
Why it worked: Amazon comes out with incredible ads every single year, and it shows how self-aware they are. They churn out products left and right, and they’re aware what the public is saying. People don’t agree with all the products they’re making. So what do they do? They make an ad about everything that didn’t stick.
What we can learn: Beyond using celebrities (hi, Harrison Ford!), this commercial shows us that self-awareness is key to good storytelling. Amazon poking fun at itself is a great way to humanize the megabrand. Ironically, by showing us all the hilarious things that didn’t stick, Amazon reminded its viewers how much everyone relies on their products.
2. Doritos, Now It’s Hot, 2019
Why it worked: Speaking of celebrity appearances, this one with Chance The Rapper and Backstreet Boys nailed it. This commercial was so delightfully unexpected that viewers were on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what happened next.
What we can learn: Good storytelling (and keeping your audience’s attention) is all about doing something unexpected. When companies brainstorm how best to grab the audience’s attention, “ridiculous” is one strategy. How crazy can we get in order to earn and keep the audience’s attention? Seeing Chance The Rapper with the Backstreet Boys is definitely going to make me do a double take.
3. Budweiser, Puppy Love, 2014
Why it worked: This ad worked because it appealed to our emotions. The sweetness of a puppy becoming best friends with a clydesdale was too much for people to handle (in a good way).
What we can learn: Yes, animals are cute and bring people together. Beyond that, though, we learned how essential it is to play with emotions when telling a story. If you want to keep someone’s attention, you have to cater to an emotion. After all, we don’t remember what people said, we remember how they made us feel.
4. Tide, “It’s a Tide Ad” 2018
Why it worked: This ad was smart, funny and self-aware without attacking their competition. This commercial understood how redundant Super Bowl ads can get and decided to play into it. Through its effective compilation, it concludes that any commercial with clean clothes must be a commercial for Tide. This conclusion means that viewers with inadvertently think of Tide whenever they see a clothing commercial for the rest of the game.
What we can learn: This commercial was self-aware enough to know what it was like to watch Super Bowl ad after Super Bowl ad; rather than play into expectations, it made fun of itself (and everyone else who was participating in the commercials). Humor is a timeless way to cut through the noise, and self-deprecation is a timeless flavor of humor.
5. Dodge Ram, Built to Serve, 2018
Why it DIDN’T work: Given the political climate in 2018 and especially considering the racially charged discussions in the NFL, Martin Luther King’s voiceover as Americans are working hard (with Ram trucks appearing throughout) came across to many as tone-deaf and out of touch.
What we can learn: It’s hard to overstate the importance of staying in touch, tuning into the sociopolitical climate, and using basic common sense. Understanding what your audience wants to see at that current moment in time is a crucial step in telling a good story.
Like the Superbowl, when it comes to PR, it’s all about storytelling. We encourage our clients to get to the heart of their story. Why would their audience care about that particular story at that particular time? How can we tell a really special story? Whether we have a fitness client or a financial client, we give the same advice: don’t tell the same, tired story. Think outside the box.
Next time you need to grab someone’s attention, whether in a social media post or a Super Bowl commercial, make sure you:
Tug at the heartstrings
Do the unexpected
Listen to your audience
Don’t take yourself too seriously