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The Best Part of the Super Bowl? The Ads, Of Course!

February 10th, 2022 Chelsea Smith 5 min to read

The matchup is set, and the city is buzzing. This Sunday in Los Angeles, the two greatest franchises in NFL history, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams, will face off in Super Bowl LVI. And this blog about advertising during the Super Bowl is almost definitely dated by the time you read it.

Fun fact: while the Super Bowl is in the Los Angeles Rams' home stadium, the Cincinnati Bengals are the official home team.

Fun fact: This year's halftime show features Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar.

Fun fact: If the Los Angeles Rams lose, they will be forced to move back to St. Louis.

Not sure if the last one is true, but it does sound fun.

The yearly event that is the Super Bowl provides even those who are not fans traditions to enjoy: the halftime show, parties where 90% of the food is deep-fried or comes in the form of a dip, and buzzworthy advertisements that are (usually) pretty entertaining.

The Super Bowl is also the Super Bowl of Advertising

Brands pay millions for mere seconds of airtime during the Super Bowl every year. Considering that average viewership for the Super Bowl has hovered around 100 million people over the last decade, you can see why.

Thankfully, that massive investment and a showcase during the biggest show on earth have inspired brands to go big and get creative, producing some highly memorable ads.

The Pepsi ad with Cindy Crawford (1992), Budweiser's "Frogs" ad (1995), Apple's 1984 ad, The E-Trade baby (2008), etc. There are many others, of course, but the point is that Super Bowl ads are usually a time to shine, and many brands have successfully done that over the years.

You don't need the Super Bowl to approach marketing like you're advertising on the Super Bowl

Your business might not be Nike, Pepsi, E-Trade, Squarespace, or whoever else with millions of dollars to spend on a single ad. It might not even be in the B2C space where a significant portion of your audience could be found amongst those 100 million viewers. But that doesn't mean you can't approach marketing with the same mindset.

The lesson that advertising in the Super Bowl can teach us is that creativity wins big. A 2013 study published in the Harvard Business Review backs this up. While the study is nearly a decade old, the increasing rate of consumer fatigue lets us assume this is more relevant today than ever. People want creativity. They want to be surprised, entertained, and delighted. Who wouldn't be?

What "creativity" really means

Taking a look at the HBR study above, they include five categories under creativity:

Originality. Comprising rare or surprising elements or moving away from the obvious and commonplace.

Flexibility. Smoothly linking the product or service to a range of different uses or ideas.

Elaboration. Containing unexpected details or extending simple ideas so that they become more intricate and complicated.

Synthesis. Blending or connecting typically unrelated objects or ideas.

Artistic value. Containing aesthetically appealing verbal, visual, or sound elements. High production quality, clever dialogue, original colour palette, and/or memorable music.

The study also ranks the influence of these elements on the overall effectiveness of a campaign, with elaboration having the most potent influence, followed by artistic value, originality, flexibility, and synthesis has the least influence of the five.

Creativity isn't about combining all of these elements. The most effective combinations are campaigns that combine elaboration with originality and artistic value with originality. The least effective (yet most popular) combination was flexibility and elaboration.

Putting creativity into practice

It's nice to know that creativity is important and what sort of creativity is most effective, but how do you get more creative with your marketing?

The first step is having the willingness to try.

You can surround yourself with highly creative marketers by building your own team or working with a quick-to-scale agency that operates like your in-house marketing department. Still, you must be willing to break the mould and strive for something different from what everyone else in your industry is doing. Most businesses are conservative in their approach to marketing, which is still effective (much more effective than not marketing at all). Still, by forgoing creativity, you might be leaving significant opportunities untaken.

The second step is looking at what creativity means for your business in your industry.

For a B2B company operating in the energy industry, for example, just a little creativity might go a long way. Demon Oilfield Services is an Alberta-based oil and gas service company that we had the pleasure of meeting a while back. Their name alone stands out, but the finishing touches to equipment design stand out even more. When their equipment is on-site, people know exactly who they're working with and are genuinely excited by the brand. The folks at Demon knew their audience and got creative to do something outside the box.

You can go bold with your website, use an unexpected metaphor to hit your message home or focus on telling real stories about real people in your business. That's the thing with creativity; there's no "one way" to do it. Creativity for Reporters Without Borders may look a lot different from creativity for Coca-Cola, Shopify, or Enbridge.

So start small if you're not sure how to start. Not every piece of marketing you implement needs to be as creative as it can be. But creating space for creativity opens the doors to countless opportunities.

A little creativity goes a long way.