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How Super Bowl Ads Can Hurt Small Business


Comedian Andy Borowitz tweeted just before this year’s big game:

“Super Bowl ads are worth every penny! My favorite from last year was the one with the car or the chips or something.”

It’s only been a few days since the airing of this year’s crop of incredibly lame ads, and already most of them have been completely forgotten (while the game itself, ironically, was one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever, and will be remembered for a long time to come).

The companies that spent the gross national product of some small countries to run the ads basically admitted how ineffective they would be on their own before they even hit the airwaves, by investing an unprecedented amount of time, energy and money into promoting the ads outside of their actual Super Bowl airings.

Of course there was all of the usual media attention surrounding many of the ads that we’ve become accustomed to in recent years, both before and especially after the game itself.

But this year, many of the advertisers launched extensive social media campaigns tied to their commercials, including YouTube videos, dedicated Facebook pages and special Twitter hashtags. There were also all kinds of contests and “extended versions” available online, all designed to get viewers to respond to the ads in some tangible way.

But not a single ad suggested the viewer respond by making a purchase.

And that’s a luxury that small business owners just cannot afford. We need every dollar we invest in advertising to get a positive, quick return; one that can be accurately tracked to that particular ad.

By contrast, big companies with national or worldwide locations and/or extremely sophisticated sales systems only need their ads to spark interest and desire – leaving their sales teams to do the rest.

Take a car manufacturer, for example: If watching a two-minute monologue by a famous actor somehow makes me consider buying a Chrysler, then I still have to go visit a local dealership and wrangle with a highly-trained salesperson in order to actually make the purchase.

Do you have hundreds of prohibitively-expensive brick-and-mortar locations scattered all across the country, each full of dozens of employees and well-trained, killer sales pros? If so, then go ahead and run mind-bogglingly expensive national television ads full of celebrities, dogs, cheetahs and vampires, whose goal is simply to entertain and thereby hope to be remembered.

But if you’re a typical small business owner, then you need to go one critical step further than the big companies: you need to present your product or service and also make the sale (or at least capture a qualified lead) at the same time.

Which means that your ads must include all the elements of direct response marketing (offer, deadline, etc.) – something much more difficult to do in 30 or 60 seconds than just being funny or cute.

So the bottom-line is: The Super Bowl advertisers that spent millions of dollars on ad production, air time and elaborate pre- and post-game campaigns may see a return on their investment (although they have, for the most part, only fuzzy, insufficient tracking to try to determine that), but small business owners shouldn’t even think about trying to pull off that kind of advertising.

If we’re looking to model our advertising off of anything on television, it must be the infomercials or one of the all-shopping-all-the-time channels, where the emphasis is on selling – not just on entertaining people.

Because as this year’s Super Bowl showed, sometimes the game itself can accomplish that goal all on its own – just like it’s supposed to. Our ads need to accomplish much, much more.

*By the way, while not a single one of this year’s Super Bowl ads was even a half-way decent example of effective, direct response marketing, there was one ad that I did like. Check it out here.

2 Responses to How Super Bowl Ads Can Hurt Small Business

  1. Dave Reply

    February 8, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Excellent ad, Steve! Not only is the ad a simple call to action, the website is simple, straightforward, and loaded with actionable items. No nonsense!

    • Steve Sipress Reply

      February 9, 2012 at 9:28 pm

      Excellent observations, Dave. Results-oriented is the only way to be, if you want to be successful.

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