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What Small Business Owners Can Learn From Watching Super Bowl Ads


I’ve been a proud Chicagoan since moving here 11 years ago, but I did spend the first 18 years of my life in New York and the next 17 in Boston. So you might think that I would be rooting for either the Giants or the Patriots to win on Sunday.


I’ve been a New York Jets fan ever since I was a kid, growing up less than 7 miles from Shea Stadium, where they played throughout my childhood. I remember watching on TV with my Dad over 40 years ago as Joe Namath lead my beloved Jets to their historic upset victory in Super Bowl III – and I remember even more vividly the more recent 4-plus decades of incompetence, as they haven’t been back to the big game since.

However, I’m as loyal as they come – and no matter how embarrassing they perform on or off the field, I remain a dedicated Jets fan.

Which makes me a lifelong sworn enemy of both the Giants and the Patriots.

So, while I can’t figure out which team I want less to win on Sunday, one thing is for certain: Like an estimated three-fifths of the 110 million+ viewers, I will be more interested in the commercials than the actual game being played.

And as a student and teacher of advertising that really works, as usual I’ll be shaking my head at another batch of relatively ineffective Super Bowl ads again this year.

Yes, many of the companies that advertise will get modestly positive results, but that will be due in large part to many factors other than the ads themselves, including media hype about the ads both before and after the game, elaborate and carefully orchestrated social media campaigns before, during and after the game and even how well-known the company is by the general public before the ad is even seen (according to Philip Herr of Advertising Age, “The more established the brand, the better the extended ROI from a Super Bowl Ad”).

Almost all of Sunday’s ads will be filled with big-name celebrities, sports stars, sexy women, cute animals and even cuter babies, but only a few – if any – are likely to contain highly-effective, proven advertising elements which lead to extraordinary results.

So, what are those elements, you ask?

As Bill Glazer, author of the best-selling “Outrageous Advertising That’s Outrageously Successful” (get a free copy here ) teaches all small business owners: To have the greatest possible effect (and make the most money), advertising must do two things:

  1. Stand out from the clutter and get noticed; and
  2. Use Direct Response Marketing principles.

Most, if not all, of the ads you will see on Sunday will do an excellent job of being outrageous, entertaining and attention-getting, but very few – if any – will use Direct Response Marketing principles, which is why the advertisers won’t experience the financial success that they otherwise could.

One company which does almost always do a great job of using Direct Response Marketing principles in its outrageous, entertaining, attention-getting Super Bowl ads is GoDaddy (in fact, the company was almost unheard-of before its first Super Bowl ad campaign back in 2005 catapulted it to the #1 web host in the world).

On Sunday, you’re likely to see more great examples of GoDaddy’s effective advertising strategy, which last year resulted in the company’s highest spike in internet traffic in their 7-year Super Bowl advertising history, and much more important, a 466% increase in the number of domain registrations over the same time the previous year.

As small business owners who need every hard-earned dollar we invest in advertising to return a quick, measurable profit, those are the numbers we like to see!

Meanwhile, almost all of the other companies that will spend record amounts of money to advertise in this year’s big game will call it a major victory if they see their sales jump by even just a few percentage points.

And so-called “marketing experts” will judge the ads on fuzzy, general, mostly-subjective criteria such as “likeability,” “memorability” and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management’s “ADPLAN” judging formula, which includes intelligent-sounding — but dubious — factors, such as “Linkage” and “Amplification.”

Salaried marketing executives with fancy degrees but little real world sales experience, who work for big companies with huge advertising budgets to burn, are pretty much the polar opposite of small business owners, who operate in the real, day-to-day, in-the-trenches world of income and expenses, and who need every dollar of our precious advertising investments to generate real, measurable and near-immediate results.

So we’ll be watching Sunday’s Super Bowl commercials much more for what NOT to do than for good examples of effective advertising (although we’re almost sure to see a few of those, if we look hard enough).

Oh, and maybe we’ll watch some of the game, too.

Coming next Wednesday: My specific post-game report on just how bad this year’s crop of ads was.

2 Responses to What Small Business Owners Can Learn From Watching Super Bowl Ads

  1. Doc Reply

    February 1, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    As always, you hit the nail on the head. When your team ain’t playing, about the most exciting thing are the ads!

  2. Steve Sipress Reply

    February 6, 2012 at 4:48 am

    Actually, Doc, that game was a ton more exciting than the annual lackluster lineup of crappy ads America was subjected to yesterday.

    My complete post-mortem will be available here on Wednesday…

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