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The Three Pillars of a Solid Super Bowl Ad
By: Andrew Davis
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Likeability. Persuasiveness. Brand recall. These are the three pillars to great advertising. Without even one of these pillars, an ad will go down like quarterback in the fourth quarter who should have been pulled in the first half (yeah, Shanahan, you just got called out).
Okay, so maybe it won’t be that painful to watch, but the ad certainly won’t accomplish everything it should. And, if you’ve dropped a few mil on a 30-second spot — more than most businesses spend on marketing in a decade — this is a really expensive bust. Endearing as Volkswagen’s 2011 Super Bowl ad “The Force” was, it failed to reach its full potential if consumers only remember the narrative, and not the brand. "At the end of the day, is it that little 'Darth' commercial, or is it that VW commercial that had Darth in it?” asks Bonnie Drewniany, a professor at the University of South Carolina who teaches a course in Super Bowl advertising.
In order to hit the advertising trifecta, especially during the Super Bowl, it requires a ‘big idea;’ that is, a central idea at the very core of a campaign that encapsulates both the inherent drama of a brand, and a technique that makes this drama come alive for the consumer. And, it’s more than slapstick humor, or shock value. “I have very often given the example of being able to attract people to an ad by standing a man on his head on a page,” Bill Bernbach, one of the greatest advertising men to ever live, once said. “But that is not a good ad unless you’re selling a product that keeps things from falling out of that man’s pockets.”
Unfortunately, some brands like to take the easy road, focusing only on the likeability aspect of their ad while forgetting it must also be persuasive, and the product memorable. It’s easy because all it really requires is a baby, an animal, a pair of breasts, or a funny gag. But, even Kate Upton’s glorious breasts can’t sell Mercedes if they’re not supported by something more than Victoria’s Secret.
"I think if you're going to do the Super Bowl, you can't go in half-hearted,” says Scott Brandon, president of The Brandon Agency. “You gotta go with the best. You gotta go with a really good idea because you're competing with the best of the best.” This means avoiding the trap of immediate shock value, which fades quickly. One must put together a campaign that resonates before, during, and after the Super Bowl. It requires finding an idea that continually works-in all three advertising pillars.
“You can go back in time and you can pretty much remember, without doing any research, some of the best Super Bowl commercials,” says Brandon. “They live on afterwards, but they launch there.”
“Super Bowl ads now are campaigns in and of themselves,” says Paul Venables, creative director and co-founder of Venables, Bell & Partners, who has handled Audi’s Super Bowl campaigns for the last few years. “I think that's the value of the Super Bowl. It's not just you buy a spot and you're done. You're basically creating a conversation that has a lot of people involved that lasts from several weeks before the game to several weeks after, and so there's value in that.”
For a deeper look at how Super Bowl advertising has evolved over the years, click here.

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About the Author
Andrew Davis is a Charleston, SC-based creative services consultant to small businesses and non-profits. Follow him on Twitter here.
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