Likable Super Bowl Spots Are Romantic Failures

Whether it’s a twerking M&M or Jaguar’s secret agents, buzz continues to build about which of this year’s Super Bowl spots will be the game’s biggest hits. But branding expert Tim Halloran says that when it comes to the Super Bowl, likable is vastly overrated, and that ads should strive, instead, to wine and dine the game’s 181 million viewers. Halloran, president of Brand Illumination, a consultancy based in Atlanta, and author of the new Romancing the Brand (Jossey-Bass), tells Marketing Daily where Super Bowl ads typically fumble. They may be the lampshade-wearing life of the party, he says, but they’re not necessarily the brands we want to wake up with, day after day. He explains which ads will get their $4 million worth.

Q: So for Super Bowl ads, “likable” isn’t a good thing?



A: Exactly. Many studies have shown us that the most likable Super Bowl ads are generally not the most persuasive. Yes, they’ll be the most talked-about at the water cooler. But they tend not to be the most persuasive. To do that, consumers need to be wined and dined.

Q: Can you explain the wooing metaphor? 

A: We engage in relationships with brands much as we have relationships with a significant other. In the best case scenario, we fall in love with them, so much so that if the brand is substantially changed, we would be hurt. It should be a long-term consumer relationship.

Q: Can you give us an example?

A: Years ago, working at Coca-Cola, I remember watching a focus group, where a woman described her relationship with Diet Coke as “a boyfriend in a can, someone who is with me in good times and bad.” That’s a strong bond.

Q: Why does that make the Super Bowl such a big deal?

A: If relating to brands is like relating to people, think of the Super Bowl as the social event of the year. The problem is most ads try too hard to be entertaining. So, yes, they are the stars of the show. But the next day, are they really brands we want to be in a long-term relationship with? Usually, no. It’s the quieter people we meet, the ones we chatted briefly with, that we are most interested in.

Q: What makes for the most entertaining spots?

A:  The ones that typically top the “likable” lists and dominate the Ad Meter are ads that gross us out, put characters (often animals) in strange or awkward situations, or play up something overtly sexual. Bud Light, Doritos, or, for example, usually land in here.

Q: So you say that doesn’t work, long term. What does?

A: Ads that are introductory and informative. They almost always do worse on the likability scale than humorous and entertaining ads. But if done well, they intrigue us. They make us want to know more about you.

Q: So for introductions, it’s a good idea?

A: Absolutely. You want people to meet your brand in the most memorable way possible, and the Super Bowl is the ultimate stage to introduce yourself. It makes sense that other brands want to make an introduction in a more intimate setting, but the Super Bowl is a powerful venue if you are looking to make a splash with a new product or line extension. Apple’s famous “1984” is still probably the greatest example.

Q: Based on that, which brands are likely to be winners?

A: Axe is using this Super Bowl to introduce the Peace line, in a way that is very different. It’s less sophomoric.

Q: If marketers can’t come up with an ad that, as you say, wines and dines us, do brands hurt themselves by sitting the Super Bowl out?

A: I don’t think consumers notice. The exception might be if there are two main competitors -- if Coke advertised and Pepsi didn’t, it might make an impact.

Q: We know many people will watch the game on two screens. How much should brands rely on social media during the game?

A: I don’t think it’s realistic to ask someone to like you or tweet something during the game. But social media is part of the augmentation of the main message. People should be given something they can do the next day to follow up. The point is to establish a more in-depth relationship, so there needs to be an opportunity to bring them back. They have to be able to seek out your brand.

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