Every year, brands get involved in politics during the Super Bowl. From 1984 to today, many of our most memorable ads have made a political statement. But predictably, those same ads generate a backlash. Stick to sports! Give me an escape, not a civics lesson! (Puppymonkeybaby, anyone?)
Our own dial testing of Super Bowl ads this year with Dialsmith showed that audiences are craving a universal and positive message. Hyundai’s “A Better Super Bowl” ad pulled at the heartstrings, and was easily the best testing ad in our analysis. On the other hand, 84 Lumber’s ad was seen as divisive, scoring well among younger audiences but poorly among older Americans.
As this year proved again, though, “stick to sports” isn’t advice all brands want to take. So let’s say you’re a brand trying to make a political statement today. How do you create an ad that’s seen as relevant and impactful?
After our analysis of this year’s ads, we’ve developed a five step approach to help you get a little closer to that perfect political spot at Super Bowl LII.
Step one: know your audience. The first step in any successful message is understanding who you’re talking to and what they care about. Airbnb almost didn’t make a Super Bowl ad this year, deciding less than a week before to buy airtime. The company used that last-minute ad to make a big statement about diversity, a core value of their target consumer: millennials and travelers.
Step two: stand for something. In today’s political and cultural climate, the only sin is not taking a side. Brands that identify an issue and take a clear, consistent stand won’t please everyone. But there’s a lot of value in doing exactly what 84 Lumber did. Because they directly addressed immigration with a strong statement, they’re easily winning the post Super Bowl buzz game, and everyone knows where they stand.
Step three: don’t back down. It isn’t enough to simply take a stand though. You also have to back it up. While 84 Lumber stood by its ad, Anheuser-Busch ran away from its Budweiser offering, insisting that the ad was made months ago and wasn’t a political statement. So the brand loses the benefit of engaging in the conversation, while still getting the #boycottbudweiser treatment from those who interpreted it as a political statement anyway.
Step four: make it real. Many brands want to stand for something, but it’s important to think about the potential pitfalls of getting your voice out there. If your actions and brand don’t back up the statement, you just may find that the message gets lost in the backlash. Audi may love women’s empowerment, but with females making up just 12% of their leadership team, and none of its board of directors, they’ve left themselves open to quite a bit of criticism today.
Step five: Hit the sweet spot. Every year, there are a couple ads that introduce companies we’ve never heard of into the national conversation. This year, 84 Lumber made the biggest impact, but It’s A 10 wasn’t far behind. Hitting the sweet spot of funny, relevant, and attention-grabbing, this hair care company managed to do all that while reminding people of the company’s core product offering and brand promise.
In the Trump presidency, brands must be more intentional than ever about what they say, and how they say it. When any statement can alienate a large chunk of your audience, it’s essential to understand not only what you want to say, but how your audience might actually hear it. And when you get one chance to reach billions of eyes and ears in the Super Bowl, you want to make the most of it. Following these five steps won’t guarantee a perfect 10, but when you make a thoughtful decision about who you are, and what you stand for, you can make a real impact.