This past Sunday evening was not just any Sunday evening: it was the 49th edition of that most quintessential of Sporting Events, the Super Bowl. An important disclaimer: I do not follow football. However, as many people often claim in jest, I do “watch it for the ads” – a practice made easier and easier by corporations’ increased willingness to share content through social portals like Twitter and Youtube.
Super Bowl ads are perhaps just as famous for their cost as for their content. 30-second spots are sold for millions upon millions of dollars ($150,000 per second! Think on that!) to major corporations (such as perennial heavyweights Budweiser/AB-InBev) and highly ambitious smaller players, often web-based businesses looking to make a mark on huge audiences (as Wix, GrubHub and to some extent, humble adhesives manufacturer Loctite did this year.)
I won’t use the space of this blog to break down a “winners and losers” spread of the 2015 ad spots – frankly, I believe that Katy Perry’s team of dancing sharks stole the entire proceedings – but rather look at the lessons that may be applicable to small businesses.
Create an Impression, Not an Advertisement
The challenge of a great promotional strategy is to create conversations about your business that will lead to increased customer interaction and word-of-mouth interest – a powerful form of promotion that doesn’t require huge cash investment to spread a message with great momentum. Even if you’re unable to advertise with the flash and dash or massive scale of a high-end Super Bowl ad, your small business can focus on creating customer experiences that leave a lasting impression, creating repeat business and generating new interest. You can also think about multiplying the power of word-of-mouth through social channels.
Manage Your Risk: Iterate to Improve
I was very surprised to see German adhesives manufacturer Loctite air one of the weirdest, most irreverent and upbeat Super Bowl ads this year. Loctite, really? Can glue go viral, with the help of zany dancing and offbeat delivery? Such was their hope, I suppose. The company is not known for a broad or consistent advertising approach to the general public, and so spending a huge sum on a single ad (albeit one so well-placed) might constitute a significant risk. One of the best practices for anyone overseeing a business plan is to adopt a model of continuous testing and iteration. Often, the most significant business improvements are found by changing one small thing at a time at relatively low risk, observing the results, and adjusting accordingly before planning the next change.
Keep Track of the Funnel
How do your customers reach you? Surely, not through a single advertisement. None of the Super Bowl ads stood on their own: each was connected to a larger strategy that projected across different media and venues. The advertisement or promotional aspect of a business strategy is only the widest point on an imaginary “funnel” that gets narrower and narrower as visitors take successive steps or actions that bring them closer and closer to becoming customers of your business (this applies both online and in physical space.) The funnel inevitably drops people off as it gets closer and closer to your business goal. To minimize this effect, you need to do as the Super Bowl advertisers do: define and monitor the key indicators (profit-based and influence-based) that will help you measure success.
Take the Edge Off
Shock value is a volatile commodity when it comes to promotions. The history of Super Bowl ads is littered with companies whose attempts to create “edgy” or provocative statements have backfired. Two of this year’s most controversial ads (from Budweiser and GoDaddy) made the mistake of alienating particular customer groups, and both brands felt the sting of reprisal among the communities they had hoped to influence. In the age of social sharing, small businesses cannot take the risk of having negative backlash spread quickly.