Super Bowl Audiences Are In A 'Hot' State Of Mind; Will Your Ad Resonate?

While there are many reasons a brand may invest $5 million in a 30-second Super Bowl ad – awareness, PR, world’s biggest audience, even shock value – I doubt most marketers are thinking about consumers’ unconscious states of mind during the Super Bowl. And, we think they should.

Behavioral Economics tells us that people are in either hot or cold states of mind depending on what they’re experiencing at the time. Hot states – also called visceral states – can relate to physical forces like hunger, thirst or sex drive. Or they can be caused by high arousal or high stress occasions – say, your team is ahead by 3 with two minutes left but Tom Brady has the ball.

In a hot state, you’re working on an emotional level, and rational reasons for making choices are almost meaningless. Your brain simply can’t hear them.

Clearly it’s not the time for feature-heavy product descriptions.  If your brand story relies on product differentiation, you might want to save your $5 million for a placement where your target is more primed to take in all those facts.



Aroused by team spirit, raucous company, anticipation, food and drink, Super Bowl viewers are geared up to react emotionally—positively or negatively—to whatever they see, including the ads.

That’s why anthemic spots like Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” and Coke’s multi-lingual “America the beautiful”  scored well – although the latter wasn’t without controversy in our seemingly perennial “hot state” political environment.

In addition to Coke, other spots from last year that got it right were 84 Lumber’s “The Entire Journey” (although you had to go online to see the end), Honda’s Yearbooks and even Mr. Clean. None said anything about the brand – there was a total absence of features – yet each served the brand well.

Super Bowl is the time to speak to the audience’s passions, to move them, to connect your brand authentically to their deepest feelings and the causes that resonate with them.  That’s why we’re seeing more tugs on heartstrings and philanthropic approaches than ever.

Witness Anheuser-Busch’s focus on water not beer in both the Budweiser and Stella Artois spots. The beloved Clydesdales were benched to focus on InBev’s program to provide water after natural disasters. 

It’s a message likely to resonate more emotionally and personally than Clydesdale cuteness – while also speaking to consumers’ desire to know that brands care about them.  Additionally, the disaster relief better reinforces their “America’s beer” positioning. (With a last-minute, five-second substitution, Bud has brought the Clydesdales back into the game.)

On the other hand, we have Febreze’s offering this year. While there’s no doubt one might need air freshener at the party, it’s too much of a stretch to make the connection and just not the right mindset. That’s not where your mind wants to go while you’re chowing down.

Even if you’re not investing in a Super Bowl spot, you should consider hot and cold states in any media plan.

Tune your messaging not just to the medium but also to the emotional landscape.  Go for the emotional pull when people are in “hot state” media occasions. Then deliver the detailed product info when they are in “cold state” media.

Caveat – it’s trickier than ever to determine hot and cold media opportunities in these fraught times. Watching the news might once have been considered a fairly cold state. Today, maybe not so much—especially during national disasters or when the reporting turns to the latest events in Washington.

With today’s media tools, brands have more ability than ever to control which message runs where and when. So, whether it’s a Super Bowl buy or any other media investment, apply the behavioral economics principle of hot states and cold states to both the channels and content you choose--depending on your advertising objective. 

You’ll get a bigger bang for your buck and make fewer enemies.



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