Winning Super Bowl Commercials

7 Ways to Make a Winning Super Bowl Commercial

As amazing as it would be, the vast majority of us will never be able to afford an advertisement during the Super Bowl.

If you do happen to have four or five million dollars in your marketing budget, that money might be best spent somewhere besides a single 30-second spot.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t strive to make a Super Bowl caliber commercial.

In fact, if you play your cards right, you could create something that gets just as many eyeballs and buzz as the Budweiser frogs. Thanks to the magic of the internet, you don’t have to pay millions to get people talking. You just need to make something that’s worth talking about.

Let’s take a look at some of the elements that go into making an advertisement of Super Bowl quality.

Sure, we know the funniest commercials are some of the most memorable. We know ads with dogs, cute kids, and adorable little old ladies do well. But there’s more to it than that. You have to go just a little bit deeper.

1. Use the Element of Surprise

Every year you’ll hear how just as many people watch the Super Bowl for the advertisements as the game itself. I’ve been at parties where people call out for everyone to quiet down when a commercial break comes on.

Viewers are on the edge of their seats during those breaks for the simple reason that you never know what’s going to happen next. They’re all waiting for the big “OMG moment.”

There are many ways to do this. In 2010, Snickers nailed it with a spot featuring Betty White getting creamed in a pickup game of football. They kept the surprises going by having Betty White deliver some lines that went against her typically sweet personality.

In fact, this commercial helped a new generation see Betty White in a different light giving new life to her career. After this Super Bowl ad aired, fans launched a social media campaign that got her a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live!

Watch: Snickers – You’re Not You When You’re Hungry

2. Tug on Some Heart Strings

While many advertisers shoot for laughs during the Super Bowl, the commercials that turn out to be tearjerkers can have just as much of an impact.

If you can get people to form an emotional connection with your brand, you’ll have them for life. The best way to do that is to tell a compelling story.

You’d think a beer commercial would be more likely to use humor than a heartwarming story. However, in recent years Budweiser has gone for sweet and sappy with spots featuring their recognizable Clydesdale horses.

These ads tell a visual story, sometimes using a lost puppy, and sometimes creating a human connection with the Clydesdales. While it’s certainly not a hard-sell for drinking Budweiser, it creates a sense of all-American sentimentality.

So the next time you see a 12 pack of Budweiser in the grocery store cooler, that warm, fuzzy feeling creeps up inside you again. Subconsciously, you think, “People like me drink beer like this.” And in your cart it goes.

Watch: Budweiser – Clydesdale Brotherhood

3. Be Inspirational

Another emotion you can target is the feeling of being inspired.

Some commercials will take an issue and make a stand. This demonstrates to viewers that you’re about more than just selling. It shows your company cares and believes in making a difference.

In 2016, you can watch for a Colgate commercial that found a striking way to remind people not to waste water when brushing their teeth. The Save Every Drop campaign shows things that could be done with the water we’re wasting – including quenching the thirst of a little girl from a third world country.

Be careful about using important issues to promote your brand. That can go sour in a hurry. It’s much smarter to be selfless in this case.

In the past, Go Daddy has given away Super Bowl advertising time to a lucky small business. This year, Intuit will be doing the same. It’s a move that reflects the purpose and mission of both companies – helping business owners.

Even though you won’t have ads in the Super Bowl,  you can use your brand to both inspire people and sell your product too. That’s what Apple did with its now legendary 1984 commercial, which helped launch the Macintosh computer. The commercial made Apple users feel like they were part of a revolution.

It set the tone for Apple for years to come, and it’s considered one of the best Super Bowl commercials of all time.

Watch: Apple – 1984 Macintosh

4. Be Relatable

Who watches the Super Bowl? Just about everybody. Super Bowl 50 could be the largest television audience in history.

When you’re trying to reach a mass audience full of diverse people, it’s tough to tell a story everyone can relate to. But there are some very universal themes, which a lot of us will find familiar.

For instance, all of us were kids at one point in our lives. We remember what it felt like to be small. Many viewers now have kids of their own.

That’s just one reason why kids can work so well in advertising. Remember the Monster.com Super Bowl spot from 2008? It featured youngsters saying what they wanted to do when they grew up. However, it painted a more realistic picture of life in the world of work.

“When I grow up, I want to file all day.

I want to climb my way up to middle management…

I want to have a brown nose.”

The commercial reminded many people that they had big dreams once upon a time. Monster.com positioned itself as a place that could help you get out of a dead-end job and do what you really want in life.

Another great example is the 2011 Volkswagen commercial with the little boy pretending to be Darth Vader. This spot is relatable because people remember being in their own imaginary world as a kid. With a little help from Dad (and VW), this boy’s pretend play suddenly comes to life.

We can all relate to the idea of family, or at least the picture of the perfect family in our minds.

Watch: Volkswagen – The Force

5. Be Culturally Relevant (or be Nostalgic)

Speaking of Star Wars, this year would be the perfect time to capitalize on the popularity of the return to that galaxy far, far away.

In the Super Bowl, and in overall marketing, using the latest pop culture trends and popular celebrities is a good way to get some attention. You’ll definitely see some of the hottest stars and athletes appearing in Super Bowl ads. And there will certainly be jokes surrounding the latest gadgets and technology trends.

There are a couple problems with that if you’re not a huge company.

  1. You won’t be able to afford famous celebrities
  2. Culturally relevant commercials can lose their relevancy over time

Going retro can be just as effective as being trendy. Nostalgia is big on the internet. Those toys, TV shows, and entertainment icons of the past bring back the good old days.

In 2014, RadioShack used memorable characters from the 1980s to poke some fun at itself and display its own cultural relevancy. The goal of the spot was to show how RadioShack had updated its stores and the products it provides.

Watch: RadioShack – The ’80s Called

6. Add a Little Sex Appeal

They say sex sells. And there are quite a few Super Bowl ads that try to seduce us.

Of course, a sexy spot goes down easier with a spoonful of tongue-in-cheek humor. That way, you’re less likely to offend the more conservative viewers.

Old Spice did this expertly when it introduced the Man Your Man Could Smell Like commercials. It was simultaneously steamy and silly. Plus, it targeted the females who might be picking out their man’s personal care products instead of the guys who end up using it.

You don’t have to be raunchy when you use sex in advertising. But sex is something as basic and natural to humans as food and safety, or love and family. So it makes sense in some cases.

I will never forget how Pepsi used supermodel Cindy Crawford to introduce its new soda can design in 1992. I’m pretty sure I entered puberty at that moment.

However, notice how this commercial also uses a little nostalgia and an unexpected ending. That’s a hat trick of Super Bowl commercial effectiveness!

Watch: Pepsi – Just One Look

7. Change the Pace and Quiet Down

The Super Bowl is a noisy event, and the commercials are just as loud. Bringing the volume down a few notches can make a big difference.

This is a trick school teachers use a lot. When the students are going crazy and the teacher wants their attention, she’ll start talking in a whisper until all the kids calm down to hear what she’s saying.

We live in a world where advertisers keep trying to yell louder than the next guy. That’s because there are so many marketing messages being thrown at people, it seems like being the loudest and most obnoxious is the only way to win.

Consider the idea that speaking calmly, confidently and even quietly could help your brand stand out from the rest of the pack.

Ram Trucks slowed things down during the Super Bowl with a 2013 commercial using crackly audio from radio legend Paul Harvey that paid tribute to farmers. There was no music. There was barely even any moving video. All we saw was striking imagery of hard-working Americans along with Harvey’s unmistakable voice.

Watch: Ram Trucks – God Made a Farmer

Make it More than Branding

When you’re a big name like Pepsi or McDonalds, Bud Light or Doritos – you can afford to make commercials that do nothing more than keep your brand top of mind.

But the rest of us need to make sure our advertising efforts go further.

Maybe you’d like to put together a commercial or web video you hope will go viral. Maybe you’d like to create something that becomes engrained in pop culture.

Great! But it would be even better if your ad was memorable, entertaining, and also persuasive. The best Super Bowl ads not only get talked about, they boost sales too. They communicate a brand’s values and the benefits of using those products or services.

That’s not always easy to pull off. But if you want your advertising and marketing efforts to make a splash and boost your bottom line – contact Element.

Our content marketing programs are designed to get your company noticed online. And we do much more than that! Check out our portfolio and case studies to see some of our best work.

Director of Content Marketing
Kasey Steinbrinck has been creating content since he was just a little kid, writing stories and making radio shows on his Fisher Price tape recorder. He went on to produce local television and wrote for an area newspaper before discovering the power of telling stories online. Kasey worked as a content marketer, blogger, and copywriter for two ecommerce companies before joining Element in 2015.