To Win the Super Bowl of Ads and Social Media Don’t Bench Your MVP – Story

You may have heard about people in Vegas betting on the Super Bowl game, but brand marketers bet millions on the game every year as well. With the cost of $5 million for a 30 second Super Bowl ad and brands spending up to an additional 1 million on promotion to garner social media attention there is a lot riding on the ad game. We could call this the Super Bowl of Advertising and withe all the attention on views and shares it could also be the Super of Bowl of Social Media.

But with only 15% of the 60 to 70 ads run during the game able to make the top 10 why take such a risk? In an age of fragmented media and multiple device distraction, the Super Bowl is the last place advertisers can over 100 million people focused on watching the ads. Last year Google/YouTube reported that 330,000 hours of Super Bowl ads were played back online during the game. Not only are consumers watching, they are re-watching their favorites. This additional social media buzz is a big draw.

The risk is high for brand marketers, but also for the advertising agencies they hire. There is at least one reported case where an ad agency lost a 60 million dollar account for their Super Bowl ad not making the Top Ten list in USA Today’s Ad Meter despite noteworthy past performance. Interestingly the turning point for that brand and their agency seems to have come from leaving behind the previous MVP of their ads – chimpanzees.

What can we learn from the winners of the Super Bowl of ads? The proclaimed King of Beers, Budweiser, is the consumer confirmed King of Super Bowl ads. No brand has had more top performing Super Bowl ads than Bud and if they had an MVP it would have to be Budweiser’s Clydesdales. Clydesdale Super Bowl ads have finished in the top 5 of USA Today’s Ad Meter 8 times in the last 10 years. An 80% success rate is amazing.

Even Tom Brady and Matt Ryan only complete roughly 65% of their pass attempts. With an exceptional success rate Budweiser decided to bench its MVP in last year’s Super Bowl ad “Not Backing Down” where the Clydesdales and story arc took a minor role to product and brewery scenes. The result was dropping down to 28th in the poll. It would be like only playing Brady and Ryan a couple downs in the big game.

Does this mean the secret to Super Bowl Ad success is animals? Not necessarily. Out of USA Today’s Ad Meter top 5 since it started in 1989 only about 34% stared animals. That’s not very good betting odds. Plus, if you look at the rest of the ads below the top 10 and even the ones at the bottom of the poll many featured animals.

Like with MVPs such as Brady or Ryan it’s not just the players you also need good plays to win. For commercials it’s not just the characters, you need a good plot to attract and hold attention. The series of plays called in the game and the actions in the commercial move a story forward creating drama and tension. You have protagonist (Brady or Ryan) and antagonists (Patriots or Falcons) – opposing forces.

I just described Gustav Freytag’s theory of drama known as Freytag’s pyramid – the five-act formula used by Shakespeare. My research with Michael Coolsen analyzed two years of Super Bowl ads and found the key to Super Bowl ad popularity is whether it tells a story or not. It didn’t matter if you had animals or celebrities and used humor or sex appeal, the underlying factor to likability was plot. Super Bowl Ad Poll ratings were higher for commercials that follow a full five-act story arc and the more acts commercials had (like 3 versus 2) the higher the ratings.

Most of the Budweiser Clydesdale ads told full stories with the horses playing starring roles. In the three years they dipped below the top 10 (#17 in 2011, #26 in 2012, and #28 in 2016) the Clydesdales were not main characters and more importantly the ads did not tell compelling complete stories. Based on this playbook for winning Super Bowl Ads how will the do this year?

Reports indicate the Clydesdales will make only a brief cameo yet the commercial does tell the story of German immigrant Adolphus Bush’s journey to America. In a “Moneyball” type strategy, if the brand does tell a good story there just could be enough dramatic arc to make the top 10 despite the diminished role of their MVP Clydesdales. Of course, like the game itself there could be some upsets, but depending on story is a good bet for any brand when it comes to the Super Bowl of Advertising and Social Media.

Take a look for yourself. Here are the #1 Ad Meter Budweiser Super Bowl commercial “Lost Dog” from 2015, last year’s #28 Super Bowl ad “Don’t Back Down” from 2016, and this year’s 2017 Super Bowl ad “Born The Hard Way.”

What Hollywood Pitches Can Teach Us About Storytelling, Social Media Marketing, and User Generated Content.

In Daniel Pink’s book To Sell Is Human, he references a study by two business professors who analyzed the Hollywood pitch process to discover how writers got their movie and TV series ideas approved by producers. What they found can help improve our social strategies.

The researchers observed that the most successful pitches didn’t push their idea on the person they were trying to convince. Instead, the “seller” invited the “buyer” in as a collaborator. The more the buyer was able to contribute, the better the idea (product) became and the more likely it would be approved (bought). One of the producers told the researchers, “At a certain point the writer needs to pull back as the creator of the story. And let [the buyer] project what he needs onto your idea that makes the story whole for him.”

I’ve written before about the power of story, my research in that area, and how to leverage storytelling in social media strategy. Yet, here I want to focus on collaboration. It is important to tell your organization or brand story and ultimately we all want to sell something, but don’t be too “pushy.” Invite the consumer in to tell their story and help expand upon your brand story to make it more of their own. When they start feeling like it is more of their own they have already bought in. So when you do present them with a sell message it is seen as more of an opportunity than a hard sell.

In social media, inviting the consumer in as a collaborator is called user generated content (UGC). Not only is this good for the user, but the content they create is more convincing than your own content. Research has found that 66% of consumers rely heavily on user generated content when making purchasing decisions Click To Tweet and 65% of consumers trust word-of-mouth on the Internet (UGC) more than content produced by advertisers.

Surprisingly, 51% say user generated content is more important than the opinions of their friends and family, and far more trustworthy than website content. How much user generated content is there? Researchers estimate that 25% of search results on brand names return user generated content from review sites, blogs, and social media updates. So how do we invite consumer social media collaboration? I’ve collected some ideas from Social Bro, Sprout Social, and HubSpot.

Here are 6 strategies to increase your user generated content:

  1. Share consumer comments, photos and video. It amazes me when I see awesome brand fan comments and photos and the brand does nothing. I ran an experiment once where I posted some positive comments and photos directly to various brands on Twitter. Two responded, but one ignored me. Don’t miss out on this easy opportunity, if you see a fan compliment your brand or share photos and videos using your products or services thank them and then share the content to your own followers. Fashion brands and GoPro are good at doing this. For the super contributors consider sending special offers and gifts as a reward.
  2. Reward fans by featuring their content in your advertising. When I was an advertising copywriter I always got a kick out of seeing my ideas and lines on TV, billboards and in magazines. Most consumers feel the same way. Plus, UGC is more believable, so including it in your advertising could make the advertising more believable. Doritos turns UGC videos into Super Bowl commercials every year and gets a lot of press for doing it. Of course, before placing that fan photo in your next print ad always get permission.
  3. Make user generate content part of a competition. Sweepstakes and giveaways are tried and true marketing methods, but instead of simple entry forms suggest users submit a photo, video or quote. Starbucks challenged consumers to decorate the Starbucks white coffee cup and post on social media. The winner’s design was turned into a limited edition reusable cup.
  4. Crowdsource ideas for new products, services, designs and ad campaigns. Who knows better what they want than your customers? Why not ask them? In the process they will generate a lot of brand content that will help get your organization noticed. Fiat Brazil crowdsourced a concept car design and now collects ideas for new car features via Facebook and Twitter. Dell’s IdeaStorm has collected over 20,000 ideas and implemented over 540 of them.
  5. Create a specific user generated content campaign. Ask for content by creating a campaign hashtag and promoting it on your social channels, but also in ads, in-store, and on packaging. Under Armour has #IWILL. Tourism Australia gets amazing photos and videos from all over the country. Photos they could never afford to take on their own. They post on their Facebook “Tourism Australia’s official Facebook page. Post your best photos to our wall to give us permission to share.”
  6. Just ask a questions. Perhaps this suggestion is the simplest, but it is a basic social media engagement strategy that we should not ignore. In Daniel Pink’s book he also cites research that says people are more likely to support something if presented with a question. Instead of telling them the benefits, asking a question makes people come up with their own reasons for agreeing or believing in what you are selling. GRK Greek Kitchen asks simple fun questions to encourage response such as “fill in the blank,” and “what is your favorite flavor?”

A nice big brand example of UGC is the “Share a Coke” campaign where the brand produced Coke bottles with customers’ names on them. Customers were asked to share the pictures of their personalized coke bottles on Twitter and other social media platforms. Coca-Cola attributes the UGC campaign to a 2% increase in U.S. sales after over a decade of declining revenues. Also check out Pantagonia’s Worn Wear website and Tumblr blog where they ask for and feature customer’s stories about their well worn Pantagonia clothing.

How is your social media pitch? Are your being too pushy or are your letting consumer’s in on your brand story? Leveraging user generated content could mean the difference between a social media flop and a block buster response.