The Best And Worst Of Super Bowl 2016 Marketing Strategy

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SuperBowl50I’m supposed to listen to people.

As a marketer, I have read thousands of pages of consumer studies and surveys. I have spent time on stage in front of thousands more trying to share insights they want to hear. Super Bowl Sunday, however, is the one day of the year when I stop listening to people … particularly when it comes to what they think about Super Bowl advertisements. For the fifth year in a row, I put together my roundup of the best and worst marketing strategy from the game and for the fifth straight year more than one of my “worst” selections turn out to be audience favorites.

This year’s ads featured plenty of strange animals bonding with strange people, several automotive brands focused on challenging old perceptions, multiple companies promising to reinvent banking to make everything from taxes to loans easier, and a dramatic lack of big emotion, highly patriotic style ads that we have come to expect.  So who got their marketing strategy gloriously right and who were the epic failures?

Read on for my 2016 annual list of best and worst marketing strategy from the big game …

Quick Summary (scroll down for full analysis):

  • Best Marketing Strategy Overall – T-Mobile “Ballogize” & “Restricted Bling”
  • Worst Marketing Strategy Overall – Marmot “Live Outdoors”
  • Best Statement Of Brand Values – Colgate “Every Drop Counts”
  • Worst Statement Of Brand Values – NFL “Super Bowl Babies”
  • Best Alignment To Existing Strategy – Avocados From Mexico “#AvosInSpace”
  • Worst Alignment To Existing Strategy – Intuit TurboTax “Never a Sellout”
  • Best Trend + Cultural Relevance – Intel “Experience Amazing”
  • Worst Trend + Cultural Relevance – Quicken Loans “What We Were Thinking”
  • Best Strategically Creative Ad – Audi “Commander”
  • Worst Strategically Creative Ad – Heinz “Weiner Stampede”
  • Best Execution Of Great Strategy – Wix.com “#StartStunning”
  • Worst Execution Of Great Strategy – KIA “Walken Closet”
  • Best Attempt To Reverse Brand Stereotypes – Prius “The Chase” & MINI USA “Defy Labels”
  • Worst Attempt To Reverse Brand Stereotypes – Budweiser “Not Backing Down”
  • Best Strategic Use Of Emotion – Pantene “Dad-Do” & Hyundai “First Date”
  • Worst Strategic Use Of Emotion – Squarespace “Successes”
  • Best Use Of Celebrity – Hyundai “Ryanville”
  • Worst Use Of Celebrity – Bud Light “Party”
  • Best Understanding Of Target Audience – Mountain Dew “Puppy Monkey Baby”
  • Worst Understanding Of Target Audience – Suntrust “Hold Your Breath”

Want to read my “Best and Worst” recaps from previous Super Bowl years?

Best Marketing Strategy Overall – T-Mobile “Drop The Balls” & “Restricted Bling”

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For anyone who has ever delivered creative work for an unappreciated client – T-Mobile’s humorous look at how big companies ruin everything hit close to home. The ad featuring three corporate suits injecting their legal restrictions into the creative process while Drake cheerfully promises “it won’t ruin the song at all” was a perfect indirect dig at all of T-Mobile’s biggest restriction wielding competitors. The first spot was a far more direct dig at Verizon’s dishonesty in its “Colored Balls” ad which Sprint also recently challenged. Using Steve Harvey to poke fun at himself and his own notorious gaffe in announcing the wrong Miss America pageant winner was an inspired bit of casting and the two ads worked perfectly to support T-Mobile’s broader strategy of being the “uncarrier” by doing things different than their competitors.

Worst Marketing Strategy Overall – Marmot

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When a brand spends an entire year’s marketing budget on a single Super Bowl spot and delivers mainly confusion and is called “one long no homo joke” by the Washington Post, it’s probably an obvious choice for the worst strategy of the game.  The plentiful mistakes in the execution of this ad also make it the biggest missed opportunity of the game. I usually love brands that are new to the game and unlikely to have household recognition because they stand to benefit the most from the huge viewership. Unfortunately, the confusing creative concept here and weird man-to-marmot relationship made this ad a loser all around.

Best Statement Of Brand Values – Colgate “Every Drop Counts”

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When a brand spends $5 million to promote the important global message that water should be conserved, along with the call to action to turn off your faucet when you are brushing your teeth … you have to stand up and pay attention. There was no bigger statement of brand values than this bold message from Colgate, delivered with power, dignity and creativity.  The spot caught your attention, made you think twice, and stood above the circus of lame jokes and cameos by once famous stars that usually make up the Super Bowl ad portfolio. *

Worst Statement Of Brand Values – NFL “Super Bowl Babies”

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With all of the negative PR attention focused on the NFL around the life threatening head injuries players may be sustaining, as well as charges the league is soft on domestic abusers – you would think the NFL would have something important to say during its biggest night. Instead, the league focused several spots on the concept that there are huge groups of kids born approximately nine months after the Super Bowl, which makes them “Super Bowl Babies” and owe their existence to the big game. Aside from being totally tone deaf and trivial as a message, the spot also conveniently forgets that Valentine’s Day happens to be just a week or two after the Super Bowl most years … so those babies might not owe as much to the NFL as it seems to think.

Best Alignment To Existing Strategy – Avocados From Mexico “#AvosInSpace”

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Following from their entertaining Super Bowl spot from last year, the Avocados From Mexico team delivered again with a creative, funny and infinitely on brand message about the wonder of avocados.  They are so wonderful, in fact, that in a future museum run by aliens looking at the best of human culture, they stand alongside the “Cube of Rubik” and … Scott Baio?  Quirky, clever and perfectly featuring the actual product (a sad rarity among many Super Bowl ads) – this ad was a winner on every level.

Worst Alignment To Existing Strategy – Intuit TurboTax “Never a Sellout”

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I like clever jokes as much as the next person, and getting Sir Anthony Hopkins to “sellout” without actually having him sell anything since TurboTax is free for some people (get it?!) was a cute idea.  The problem is that the ad has none of the nuance, insight or multiple tiers of execution that the brand is using for it’s other campaign launched for 2016, which promises uncertain consumers that “You Don’t Have To Be A Genius To Do Your Taxes.”  That ad is perfectly on brand, compelling and is likely to actually drive consumers to try doing their taxes for themselves.  The Super Bowl spot was a nice bit of entertainment, but offers far less of the same great strategic creative thinking.

Best Trend + Cultural Relevance – Intel “Experience Amazing”

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For Intel to advertise at all is a big deal – and to see the brand do it during the Super Bowl is a big strategic shift – but it is one that is likely to pay off for the brand. The current spot not only features clips from a cadre of videos that the brand has already released online illustrating how its technology is powering everything from music to cars … it is also part of a bigger story.  Next week, Intel will launch a new collaboration and ad with the Grammy’s around the role of music in technology, and Intel is already one of the most advanced content marketing brands in the world.  Perhaps most importantly, the brand is at the center of the intersection between technology and culture, illustrates it perfectly in this ad, and continues to bring out new voices, launch new collaborations and already see around a content and communications corner that most brands are just now desperately trying to reach.

Worst Trend + Cultural Relevance – Quicken Loans “What We Were Thinking”

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The worst excesses of Wall Street were fueled by people who were so culture blind that they invested millions in corporate washrooms while ordinary people lost money and suffered.  This ad doesn’t talk about those excesses, but it’s easy to see the same kind of cultural blindness in the message. Get a mortgage in 8 minutes?  Focus on owning a home as the manifestation of the American dream?  Easy mortgages led to the financial crisis and inspired the film (and book) The Big Short which has taken in over $100 million in the box office already. And home ownership as well as the desire for home ownership are both down.  So this ad offered a product the world didn’t need, inspired by a historical situation no one wanted to repeat, and offered a future vision no one wanted.  It’s not surprising the ad is already causing a big backlash.

Best Strategically Creative Ad – Audi “Commander”

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There is not much to dislike in this beautifully scripted emotional story of a retired astronaut who finds a chance to rediscover the joy in his life by driving the new Audi R8, which Audi is already calling the “fastest and most powerful Audi of all time.”  Putting the ad over the top was the soundtrack for David Bowie’s “Starman” as a powerful ode to the recently deceased musician himself.

Worst Strategically Creative Ad – Heinz “Weiner Stampede”

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This is the perfect example of the kind of ad you get when you put lots of people in a conference room, decide to promote every one of your products at once, and take the silliest idea using things that should work well in Super Bowl ads according to your research (dogs and fields!) and making it into a reality.  Ultimately, the ad was confusing, strange and not particularly memorable except for this sort of gross analogy that even though these dogs seemed happy to see these condiment-wrapped people, eventually they would just become lunch.

Best Execution Of Great Strategy – Wix.com “Start Stunning”

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Last year I loved Wix.com’s entry into the Super Bowl and illustration of their services.  This year, the brand continued the smart thinking by pairing up with one of the biggest animated films being released right now to perfectly illustrate the value of having a website.  Great concept, great execution and perfect delivery of the strategy.

Worst Execution Of Great Strategy – KIA “Walken Closet”

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The idea of KIA being the automotive cure for blandness in life is a good one – and who doesn’t appreciate seeing Christopher Walken simultaneously intimidate and educate in a spot?  The problem was that the ad ended up comparing a KIA to a nice sock and though I’m sure that’s flattering in some way … it ended up just minimizing the message and making KIA look insignificant.  Not exactly the way you want to have your brand portrayed for $5 million.

Best Attempt To Reverse Brand Perceptions – Prius “The Chase” + MINI “Defy Labels”

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This year, two automotive brands shared the honor of doing the best job at reversing brand perceptions – with a third honorable mention not included above.  MINI USA used a bunch of celebrities to tackle many of the perceptions of the car head on.  Not strong enough?  Too small?  Too slow?  The ad perfectly challenges all the assumptions and ends with a perfect tagline and call to action likely to appeal perfectly to their target customer … defy labels.  Prius, meanwhile, simultaneously created a highly watchable story across multiple ads and also poked fun at itself while delivering the message – Prius’ are surprisingly fast and powerful, and also have the amazing mileage you would expect.

Worst Attempt To Reverse Brand Perception – Budweiser “Not Backing Down”

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Every year there is an ad that is so over the top American with it’s attempt to punch everyone else in the nose that it falls flat. This year, that ad belonged to Budweiser in this ill fated attempt to change Budweiser from the emotional brand of cowboys bonding with farm animals to a love story to millennials with fast edits, heavy music and a desperate plea for relevance by unnecessarily taking on craft beers.  Thank goodness the brand also launched it’s “Simply Put” ad later in the game featuring Helen Mirren telling people not to drink and drive.  The ad was almost good enough to redeem the brand for this pitiful mess.  Almost.

Best Strategic Use Of Emotion – Pantene “Dad-Do” & Hyundai “First Date”

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You could say that it’s a sign of my own bias that both of the ads I thought best used emotion this year were stories involving fatherhood … but the game has evolved from the “mom cheering on football playing son” stereotype and now nurturing dads are taking center stage … which is a great thing both for the game and for our culture as well.  In Hyundai’s spot, the ad featured a humorous situation to illustrate a key feature of the car (the tracker) and how a paranoid dad might use the feature to keep an eye on his daughter out on a first date.  The other spot featured simple footage of NFL players doing their daughter’s hair – perfect for the brand and an amazing emotional moment to capture on camera to make anyone teary eyed.

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Worst Strategic Use Of Emotion – Squarespace “Successes”

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After a great initial introduction of the brand to the world through a previous Super Bowl spot, this ad took a big step backwards with a spot that wasn’t particularly funny or strategic – despite enlisting the help of Comedy Central sketch comedians Key & Peele.  The ad had so much potential but ultimately just ended up an embarrassing effort for everyone involved and contrasting strongly with the great effort put forward this year by competitor Wix.com.

Best Use Of Celebrity – Hyundai “Ryanville”

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What could be more distracting than a town full of Ryan Reynolds on every street corner?  He is definitely a good looking guy, and the gag in this ad works perfectly to illustrate the smart technology from Hyundai designed to brake for you to avoid minor accidents … even if you have less distracting things in front of you.

Worst Use Of Celebrity – Bud Light “The Bud Light Party”

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While I only find Amy Schumer or Seth Rogen to be occasionally funny, this ad had the potential to be great. Unfortunately it fell way short.  The concept was tired, the jokes fell flat and the actors were minimized in what they were able to do with the sketch that the ad proposed.  As a result it turned into what Super Bowl ads often end up becoming – particularly for Bud Light (which made my Worst list last year as well) – a colossal waste of money.

Best Understanding Of Target Audience – Mountain Dew “Puppy Monkey Baby”

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This annoying ad had the most likelihood of getting stuck in your head immediately after seeing it.  Despite the annoyingly catchy song, the ad perfectly appealed to the target audience for the new drink and illustrated perfectly how you can cut through the clutter, tick some people off, but create pure shareable delight among the audiences you care most about.

Worst Understanding Of Target Audience – Suntrust “Hold Your Breath”

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It is never easy to deliver a message about something people don’t really want to think about – like financial security. Yet there is always a better way to do it than to spend $5 million on an ad that is likely to put everyone in the audience to sleep and inspire little action.  Or at least to deliver an ad like this during a much less expensive time slot.

Want to read my “Best and Worst” recaps from previous Super Bowl years?

*Disclaimer: The Influential Marketing Group (founded by Rohit Bhargava) has done work for Colgate in the past, however our team had no association with the group who produced this Super Bowl ad, nor was our team involved with the ad in any way. 

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