8 Marketing Lessons from the 2015 Super Bowl Commercials

Yes, I’m one of the 78% of Americans who watch the Super Bowl mainly for the commercials. In fact, this year, I cooked during a lot of the game and ran back to the TV during the commercial breaks. (Sorry, actual football fans.) If you’re in the content marketing industry, hopefully, you paid close attention to the Super Bowl commercials, too—not just for the cute puppies and the laughs, but for valuable content marketing lessons. What did this year’s ads teach us?

Marketing Lessons from the 2015 Super Bowl Commercials

1. Commercials that inspire positive emotions, especially nostalgia and hope, tend to be a hit with consumers.

One of my favorites this year was Dove’s “Real Strength” ad for Men+ Care:

A montage of clips showing children calling out to their dads, this commercial definitely warms the heart and brings back memories of father-child moments, especially since many of the clips resemble home videos. In addition to being a memorable ad, the commercial helps define the brand: Dove is a caring and sentimental brand, and the Men+ Care products provide strength to dads everywhere.

Another company that embraced the power of positive emotion was Coca-Cola, with their “Make It Happy” commercial. The ad portrays a technician accidentally spilling Coke into an Internet server mainframe, turning hateful Internet messages into happy, positive ones. While some criticized the ad for being overly sweet and simplistic, I think the intended message—which is highly relevant in our world today—hit home with many viewers. As this Forbes article points out, the ad will be especially effective with millennials, who want to buy from brands that support a socially responsible cause.

2. Successful Super Bowl commercials keep their target audience in mind.

In my opinion, Budweiser best exemplified this strategy. First, the Bud Light “Coin” commercial successfully targets twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings who grew up playing Pac-Man (see nostalgia note above) and are now a large part of the brand’s consumer demographic. Budweiser also kept its target audience in mind when creating the “Brewed the Hard Way” ad:


Before all you craft beer enthusiast start leaving me furious comments, hear me out on this. From the music to the text to the imagery, everything about this commercial was designed for a specific target audience. Does that include me? No, I’d much rather try a pumpkin peach ale than a Budweiser. But does that include people I know, who religiously drink Bud and scoff at microbrews with hard-to-pronounce names? Yes, definitely. While this commercial angered a large group of beer enthusiasts, I do think it had its intended effect on the target audience.

3. Using a commercial to raise awareness for a cause can be just as effective for your brand as advertising a product.

A prime example of this is Nationwide’s “Make Safe Happen” commercial:

Yes, it’s depressing, and yes, some people had a negative reaction to it. (We’re watching Super Bowl commercials—we expect laughter and joy, not heart-wrenching sadness, right? I know I was in need of a Doritos commercial after this one.) But as Nationwide explained, they created the ad—knowing that some viewers would have a negative reaction to it—because they wanted to “start a conversation, not sell insurance.” Preventable home accidents are the leading cause of childhood deaths in the U.S., and Nationwide wants to build awareness of this fact and to draw visitors to the Make Safe Happen website, which helps people make their homes safer for children. The results of the ad? Thousands of people visited the Make Safe Happen site, and Nationwide branded itself as a company that cares. And guess what? People want to buy from companies who care. Win, win and win.

4. Humor works when it’s done well.

We all love funny Super Bowl commercials, and we saw some great ones this year. The most successful funny ads are memorable, unique and reflective of the company’s brand. The Doritos “Middle Seat” commercial is everything we’ve come to expect from the company’s ads: entertaining, lighthearted and focused on the irresistibility of the product. Nostalgia also played a role in some of this year’s funniest Super Bowl commercials, including BMW’s “Newfangled Idea” ad, which features a 1994 clip of Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel trying to determine how email works and “what Internet is.” Again, the humor worked because it was successfully tied into the brand, which portrays the i3 as the next “big idea.” Another favorite was Snickers’s “The Brady Bunch” commercial:

Nostalgia meets humor meets branding (oh, and Steve Buscemi as Jan)—what’s not to love?

5. Companies benefit from marketing campaigns that encourage customer interaction.

I’m not a huge McDonald’s fan (okay, except for the fries), but I’m tempted to stop by before Valentine’s Day just to see if I can pay with love! Yes, it’s as cheesy as a Quarter Pounder, but you can’t deny that the “Pay with Lovin’” commercial is both heartwarming and unique:

The ad is also beneficial from a branding perspective—McDonald’s is all about the love!—but the smartest thing about the commercial is that it gives consumers a special reason to act, and act soon. Why go to McDonald’s on February 15th when you can go now and (possibly) pay for your meal with a hug?

Doritos also encouraged consumer interaction by holding its annual “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, giving people the opportunity to submit their own ad ideas. Fans vote on their favorites, and the winning ad is used as the company’s Super Bowl commercial (and the winner receives a $1 million prize). Doritos clearly understands that more consumer interaction ultimately leads to brand growth and product sales.

6. Powerful imagery can have a profound impact.

This one might seem obvious, but I think it’s important to emphasize that powerful imagery can make a commercial a success when it’s used to connect the consumer to the brand. I think Carnival did an excellent job of this with their ad:

The images of the sea are beautiful, yes, but the commercial also adds human emotion, a sense of nostalgia—enhanced by John F. Kennedy’s voice—and a powerful call to action (“come back to the sea”). Not that I need a lot of prompting to want to go on a cruise, but this ad definitely made me want to book one immediately.

7. Commercials that get people talking mean more brand exposure.

In Chevy’s case, the talking got a little heated, thanks to the Colorado truck commercial that fooled millions into thinking their TV went out right before the game started:

Needless to say, after a moment of severe panic, some football fans were not happy with the company’s tricky ad. I, on the other hand, thought it was clever and entertaining. Whether people were upset or amused, they took to social media to express their reactions. And that’s how Chevy got thousands of people talking about their brand. I’m not sure many people will go out and buy a Colorado because of the commercial, but sometimes brand exposure alone can be worth a lot.

8. Commercials should tell a story.

Storytelling is a huge part of content marketing, and Super Bowl commercials that tell a story are often the most successful when it comes to drawing in an audience and defining a brand. Microsoft’s “Empowering” commercial tells the story of six-year-old Braylon O’Neil, a bilateral amputee who uses prostheses enhanced by Microsoft technology. Braylon’s story is engaging and inspiring, and from a branding perspective, it portrays Microsoft as a progressive company dedicated to improving lives, and who doesn’t want to support that?

Another commercial that told a great story was one of the most popular Super Bowl ads of 2015—Budweiser’s “Lost Dog”:

I’m pretty sure I went through at least half a dozen emotions watching this commercial. Budweiser has truly perfected the puppy-and-Clydesdale ad—yes, it’s adorable, but it’s also hopeful, joyful, nostalgic and triumphant. In fact, it almost makes me want to put down my pumpkin peach ale and reach for a Budweiser.

What were your favorite and least favorite Super Bowl commercials? Share with us in the comments section!

Laurel ReeseProject Manager

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