CMOs Share Lessons All Marketers Can Take from Super Bowl Advertising

By Rochelle Carter-Wilson

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The Super Bowl and its run-up represent the premier advertising event in our industry. According to Nielsen, 19 of the 20 all-time most-watched single network broadcast spots were an NFL Championship Game.

However, if we're being honest, Super Bowl advertising is the bastion of the one percent. Very few CMOs will ever lead teams producing national ad spots that run in or around the big game.

According to one CMO, "A Super Bowl ad makes sense if you have a major statement to make to a lot of people who watch football — and your team is smart enough and creative enough to pull it off."

As if the barriers to Super Bowl advertising entry were not already impossibly high, the ongoing pandemic made the process even more problematic this year with delays, set closures, and complicated production compliance regulations.

Since all brands can't or won't ever advertise during the Super Bowl, are there lessons applicable to all marketers?

We asked the ANA CMO Growth Council's exclusive CMO Exchange Network to weigh in. Benefits of Growth Council membership include unfettered access to tools and expertise otherwise available only to that one percent making a play during the Super Bowl. Participation makes those insights and strategies universally available, democratizing knowledge sharing and expertise once only restricted to a select few. For this reason, these folks have a unique insight into the pros and cons of Super Bowl advertising, even if the brands they lead don't participate.

So, what, then, are the best insights all marketers can take from Super Bowl Sunday advertising?

For CMOs with Brand, Creative, and Media expertise, successful ads, whether aimed at Super Bowl or supermarket audiences, are those connecting brand purpose to a deep understanding of customer values and their passion points.

"Whether during the Super Bowl or any other time, your ad can't just be memorable," said one CMO Growth Council member. "It has to lead to true brand building and value creation for the company. If it moves the needle on maximizing value, either through sales, long-term perception, or brand creation, then it succeeds."

Large campaign investments should build in pre-and post-digital extensions. The advice is, "Don't make the Super Bowl spot a one-hit-wonder."

Opportunities like this are "360° events." According to another CMO with expertise in brand and creative, this means "maximizing the spend far beyond a 30- or 60-sec spot to make it a multi-day or multi-week event that might include promotional tie-ins, along with employee buy-in."

From CMOs with expertise in Data, Technology, and Measurement, crucial components of Super Bowl ads are analytics and tracking ROI to show that "data plays a role in everything."

Ideally, you should always be able to track the effectiveness of your advertising. However, when it comes to Super Bowl ads, it is important to remember that your audience is not targeted — you're talking to a global audience all at once.

CMO Growth Council members who focus on Talent and Marketing Organization pointed to big opportunities like the Super Bowl to "bring sexy back to marketing." As the war for talent heats up, great ads may attract the most innovative talent to our industry, including those who might never consider careers in marketing. This requires us to be ready for our moment, creating messages with wide appeal and unifying messages.

Regarding tone, the advice is to "stretch your brand's arms around everyone, forget about the things that divide us, and have some fun. We're not altogether like this in many ways anymore."

The concept of "one world" messaging was reinforced by CMOs focused on Society and Sustainability, whose primary concern was that — to the greatest extent possible — ads "reflected the whole world." One added, "avoid preaching, morality plays, and podiums and speak to people on a horizontal level."

Key takeaways:

The most useful advice about producing Super Bowl ads that marketers can apply to their strategies include:

  • Make connections. On the largest stages, effective creative is often humorous or heart-tugging, in a sweet way.
  • Leverage the cultural vibe authentically.
  • Share messages that your audience wants to hear, not what you want to say.

No matter when and where your campaigns will be activating, when they can do these things, your brand messages are more likely to succeed. In the meantime, when watching the big game on Sunday, take note of how the one percent does the above, and explore ways for your brand to do the same. And don't forget to enjoy the wings and chips.


The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


Rochelle Carter-Wilson is the director of content and digital marketing at the ANA CMO Growth Council. To learn more about the Growth Council, visit us here.