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Stuck in B2Boring? Take These Lessons From the Super Ads Bowl

Who will win the Super Bowl? The Kansas City Chiefs? The San Francisco 49ers?

Will one of the 40-plus brands (yes, at least 40) advertising during the show win? What about half-time performer Usher? Or Taylor Swift?  OK, that last one is a no-brainer.  

But who will be the big winner?

Those brands are making huge bets (and investments) that they will.

But what does that mean for the rest of marketers? Is the Super Bowl ad game just a spectator sport that will extend into watercooler chat about what a waste of money it was? It shouldn’t be.

CMI’s chief strategy advisor Robert Rose weighs in. Watch this video or read on for his take.

Big marketing extravaganza

The Super Bowl has almost become more of a marketing conference than a championship for the National Football League. Sunday’s game culminates a week devoted to events and expos featuring sponsorships, marketing, and content-driven experiences.

The week kicked off on Monday with the Super Bowl Opening Night fueled by Gatorade. On Wednesday, it was the Super Bowl Soulful Celebration presented by CBS. Each day also included meet and greets, merchandise events, and physical experiences like competing against virtual versions of NFL players. A better moniker for the extravaganza would be FootballCon.

But on screen, other than the game itself, most eyes will focus on the big bets put forth by the 40-plus brands during the commercial breaks. The average 30-second ad costs $7 million. That’s more than $230,000 per second of airtime, and that doesn’t include any of the costs to bring those big, creative ideas to life.

Other than the gawking and the snarky reviews, what does it mean for marketers who aren’t playing the Super Bowl game? The mere mortals who work with yearly marketing budgets often the equivalent of a few seconds of Super Bowl time.

It raises two questions for marketers, especially those in B2B, to ponder.

Where are creativity and innovation?

Where are the big bets in B2B? I ask because most B2B marketers seem to have stopped making them.

You see, even for the biggest B2C brands, $7 million for 30 seconds of airtime is still a big bet. From budget to creative risk, the Super Bowl serves as one of the last places where big, creative marketing still thrives. If those campaigns survive the snarky Monday morning analysis, many go on to anchor creative for the brands for the remainder of the year.

But over the last few years, I’ve noticed B2B pull back into a bit of a shell. Where are the BIG, groundbreaking creative risks? When did you last see something with the same kind of creative impact in B2B as a Super Bowl commercial?

Where is The Epic Split, the ad where Jean-Claude of Van Damme demonstrated Volvo’s trucks’ precision by performing the splits between two vehicles? (The commercial even has its own Wikipedia page.)

Where is the End of Software campaign from almost 25 years ago when Salesforce threw a shot across the bow of Siebel, Oracle, and other installed software providers? They even held an anti-software protest outside Siebel’s conference.

Where is the next “inbound marketing,” that disruptive content marketing initiative from HubSpot?

The whole of B2B marketing exists in a monotonous world of data-driven averages. Incremental creative improvements in SEO, organic LinkedIn posts, search engine advertising, weekly blog posts, and quarterly research white papers drive simple, average efficiency.

Yes, marketers use podcasts and videos, but where are the ones that aren’t interview shows about what customers are doing? Yes, thought leadership exists, but when does it answer the unasked question rather than the frequently asked one?

You’ve focused so hard on what your personas seek that you forgot to ask what might delight them.

What about the journey?

The second part of this contemplation requires some homework this weekend.

How many of the brand commercials won’t connect their 30 seconds of make-it-rain money with an owned media experience where viewers can go to sign up, participate, engage, or otherwise continue the journey? How many feature a URL, QR code, or something else that invites the audience to continue the journey?

Or perhaps it will be easier just to pay attention to those brands that continue the journey.

That analysis leads to the second question: How well do you connect all your brand’s owned media experiences?

Does your owned media connect to your blog, resource center, webinar hub, thought leadership event, customer service event, etc.? How can you combine all your databases of email addresses and first-party data to create true insight into what, if any, journey you take your audience on?

The Super Bowl reminds us that making big bets in marketing is still a thing. Let it also remind you that your company can lose just as easily when it gets lost in the average, incremental, and least expensive ways to move the needle.

Recently, I sat in a meeting where the vice president of marketing asked if the team could get 70% to 80% of that amazing innovative idea at a lesser cost by having AI generate the content. The answer is probably yes. But what a way to ultimately create more average content.

To that, I must paraphrase one of my heroes, Capt. James T. Kirk of Star Trek:

“[They] are right – at pointing out the enormous danger potential … But I must point out that the possibilities, the potential for knowledge and advancement are just as great. Risk. Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.”

You don’t have the budget that Super Bowl advertisers have. But you have just as many breakthrough and creative ideas. It’s time to break out of B2Boring. Lean into taking a few risks.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute