Op-Ed: A Recipe for Successful Super Bowl Ads

By Kiran Aditham 

Our Super Bowl coverage continues, now with an entry from Brenda Fiala, who’s spent the last three years in New York as SVP, strategy at Blast Radius and had worked for several years as a strategist at Diageo during her career. Here, Fiala has some sage advice for big game advertisers. So, why waste your time with our drivel, read on.

That which drives sales works. That which does not is a huge failure.


Advocacy and social vitality succeed when they drive sales, and that’s why launching the ad in social media prior to the Super Bowl is worth it if the ad connects with audiences to start sales sooner—as in before the actual game. Unfortunately, too many pre-Super Bowl ad launches may fatigue the audience’s patience over time.  TV is still a funny medium in that its effect on brand sales cannot be directly measured. Digital ads, however, are less ambiguous as drivers of sales.

Either way, my key advice for advertisers creating commercials to run during the Super Bowl is to stay focused and disciplined. Know your target audience, be clear on what motivates them, and deliver the message in as memorable a way as possible but always stay on point. (You should also avoid offending large swathes of the viewing public.)

Advertisers strike out more often than you’d think because of what I call the “Sunday Night Light” effect. The beacon light of the super bowl shines so brightly in the minds of most advertisers that they trade in their advertising discipline for the pursuit of something that might be mind-blowing; something that they think is necessary to stand up to the once-a-year bright light that is the Super Bowl.

They insist that spots be “the best we have ever done” or, as in the case of Apple’s “1984” spot, “something that everyone will remember.” Other marketers and agencies try to create something that “will win awards hands down.” These objectives are all terrific except for when the ad loses sight of its core target consumer and main motivating message. Memorable for the sake of memorable more often than not does not sell.

Surprisingly, the iconic and memorable “Mean Joe Greene” Super Bowl spot in 1980 for Coca-Cola may not have actually boosted sales of Coke. In hindsight, it was memorable at the expense of communicating a real product benefit. What viewers remembered was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ star giving a kid his football jersey, not the kid giving Joe a Coca-Cola.

If there’s one requirement for Super Bowl advertising success, it’s probably to stay on message and wrap that message up in an entertaining package.

A few examples brands that stayed on message and were entertaining include:

Monster.com “When I grow up,” 1999. Kids reciting the lines about future career paths (or lack thereof) help illustrate the main benefits of the product, spoke directly to adults looking for better work and presented it in an entertaining package.

-GoDaddy.com, various years. These are among the most controversial spots and often show up in “worst” lists. However, the GoDaddy ads always communicated what product they are marketing and, in the end, were a key part of helping to make them a top-of-mind web hosting company.

Pepsi, especially the ones that take swipes at rival Coca-Cola in which the latter’s salesmen or delivery guys covertly take a Pepsi off the store shelf. These ads are classic #2 player executions and very memorable.