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Super Bowl Ad Secrets: 6 Principles to Creating The Best Ads

Super Bowl Ad Secrets" 6 Principles That Will Make You Build The Best AdsSo, what’s more exciting to you:

  1. Watching the Super Bowl or,
  2. Watching the highly-anticipated-because-they-are-so-outrageously-priced advertisements?

Personally, I must say that for me, as a marketer and a football fan, they are both equally exciting.

The Super Bowl is the one time, the one show when I actually want to watch the ads.

I mean, really, who out there actually went to the bathroom during a Super Bowl commercial?

I’m one of those people who must record their shows first just so I can fast forward through the commercials. Because, honestly, most of them are simply horrible.

And if I don’t have the option to fast forward through the commercials, then I mute them, play Spider Solitaire on my phone, and wait for my show to come back on.

Think about it: people originally started paying for Hulu so they could escape having to watch commercials during their favorite TV Shows. Since then, Hulu has become so popular that they too have commercials now.

But, if you upgrade for just a little bit more, you’re only forced to watch one commercial before your show starts, and that’s it.

And people buy it! I know this because my daughter immediately bought it the first time she had to experience watching commercials again.

I remember her exclaiming, “What am I even paying Hulu for if I have to watch commercials?!”

Then she proceeded to angrily hit the upgrade button.

Knowing this, companies were still willing to pay $5 million dollars for a 30-second ad this year during the Super Bowl, so surely, they were going to be better this time around, right?

Well, fortunately, this year had some ads that were much better than last year, thank goodness! (I was aghast at how bad they were last year…)

So, what was it that made them good this year as opposed to last year?


The Formula That Made Ads from Super Bowl LI A Success


One of my favorite books on messaging and advertising is called “Made To Stick” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

They outline 6 important principles to help ideas, ads, and messages “stick:”

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotions
  6. Stories

A key part of most of these principles is stimulating memories of something that’s familiar to you.

You don’t always have to meet every single one of the 6 principles listed above in order for your message or advertisement to end up working. But, keep in mind that a successful ad usually uses a combination of several of the 6 principles.

Before you immediately start mixing and matching principles here, let’s first take a second to really understand each principle in detail. We don’t want you spending $5M on an ad and missing the mark.


1. Simplicity


Basically, “simplicity” is about getting your point down to a single core message that is both simple and profound.

You can try these two simple tactics to shorten your message:

  • Liken your words to a proverb
  • Make your message concise and brief

Yet, just because you make your message a short does not mean that you made your message strong.

The core of the message must also be profound.

A great example of this is President Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign strategy that helped him win the Presidency. There are tons of problems that presidential candidates can talk about and challenge during a campaign. However, their message can get lost in all of the different messages.

So his campaign manager came up with the simple and profound phrase that helped keep him focused:

"It's The Economy, Stupid."

Short, sweet and to the point, it helped focus President Clinton’s campaign message.

The idea is to get across a message that people will quickly understand and connect with. You do this by providing a message that relates your audience to your core message.

And, when you try to say too much in one ad, you’ve said nothing.

It’s a delicate balance, my friends. And that is why something so simple is actually so hard to do.

No one made it simpler in the Super Bowl this year than The Walking Dead Commercial:



2. Unexpectedness


I've got one word for you: Broca.

Broca – the part of the brain that filters out all of the expected messages that we are bombarded with every day.

One of my favorite authors and ad geniuses, Roy H. Williams, talks about creating the unexpected by surprising Broca.

For instance, have you ever noticed something that is “off” in your house? Something that needs to be put up or cleaned up, only to figure out later that it never got done and you didn’t even notice it anymore?

That’s because Broca normalized what you are seeing and it became a normal part of your world. So, Broca filtered out the expected.

Broca also filters the Ads we see.

We are bombarded by so many ads and messages every day, it would overwhelm us if we couldn't filter out the “noise.” Thankfully our brain saves us from the noise.

So how do you get past the infamous Broca?

You need to do the unexpected. That won’t get filtered out because it’s not “normal.” Something that will surprise Broca.


The Key To The Unexpected


The key to doing the unexpected though, to get past Broca where people will recall who you are, is to do it in a manner that is relevant to your topic and audience.

That way, your brand is actually remembered.

I’m sure you can remember some ads that surprised you with the unexpected, maybe even made you laugh out loud. But if you were asked the name of the brand for the ad, you wouldn’t actually have a clue. Baaaad advertising!

So here’s the key: When you try to do the unexpected, it is essential that it actually relates back to your core message and back to your brand.

Otherwise, it was basically worthless.

AFLAC is usually very good at using the unexpected in their commercials. They pulled it off again in this year’s Super Bowl commercial:



3. Concreteness


This is where you really need to bring in remembered imagery. People need to be able to tie what you are saying to something that they understand and relate to.

Something that is concrete.

Something that conjures up an image or memory.


Here’s the problem:


Many company mission statements and website pages are notorious for using ambiguous, abstract corporate mumbo-jumbo wording; something that maybe the company itself understands, but is quite meaningless to everyone else.

Surely you know what I mean. We’ve all experienced it and then wondered what the heck did they just say?


Here’s How to Fix It:


Make sure your wording:

  • is clear
  • connects back to some type of concrete imagery that people actually know and relate to
  • uses analogies that people understand such as -
  • “hard as a rock”
  • “cold as ice”

See, we all know how hard a rock is or how cold ice is, so we would understand that message.

The Super Bowl Commercial that rocked the principle of concreteness was the Ad from Google promoting their product, “Google Home.” You will see that they use emotional imagery, memories, and scenes of people in their homes every day that benefit from having Google Home.


4. Credibility


Your message needs to be backed up with credibility.

Now sometimes an ad may be funny but not necessarily all that credible. Because in reality, it probably wouldn’t happen the way the ad has shown. But that’s ok because that’s the unexpected happening.

But in business messaging, credibility is something that you need to establish in order for people to believe your message.

That’s why in today’s world, people no longer believe you if you just say that you’re the best. Everyone says they’re the best. And while I think it’s great everyone has such great confidence in their work, you still need proof for people to buy-in to what you’re saying. Literally.

The National Football League’s commercial did a great job showing credibility by showing actual film clips demonstrating what the narrator was saying and talking about. You can feel the emotional pull of the ad and you may even find yourself shaking your head yes as you see evidence of what is being said played out in real life.

Grab your football jersey and check out their ad:



5. Emotions


This is a powerful tool that can make the difference in your ads and messages.

You need to make people actually feel something, whether it’s positive or negative. You need to tap into their emotional side. You do that and you’re much closer to a homerun.

For instance, telling someone that a particular food is bad for you because it has 49 grams of fat is not really an emotional story.

But, referring to a food item as a “heart attack on a plate” is much more emotional and conjures up concrete memories and uncomfortable emotions that people want to avoid.

An example of a Super Bowl ad that effectively used emotion was Audi of America. It’s the story of a girl competing in a downhill cart race in her hometown. As the fearless daughter weaves her way through a field of competitors, her father contemplates whether his daughter’s worth will be measured by her gender through a series of questions.

It was a beautiful message that probably resonated with every woman and father of a daughter. As the mom of three daughters, I was definitely cheering for this young girl. Oh, Yeah, You Go Girl!!

Check it out and see what you think:



6. Stories


This is probably the hardest thing for most people to do, but it’s also one of the most powerful.

We are wired to love stories because, again, we can relate to a story and we connect with the storyline. Children love to be told stories. Books, movies and TV shows all pull us in because they tell us a story.

But how do you pull off telling an entire story within a very short message?

You’ll see that the two ads I talk about below are both ads that use a storyline. The Audi ad above told a great story as well.

The right story helps people emotionally connect with the brand and helps them act upon it.

Check it out next time you are viewing an ad. Did it tell a story or was it simply a series of abstract ideas? See how the ads and messages with stories draw you into the story and help you feel a stronger connection to the brand.


So Let’s Talk About a Couple of the Ads that I Thought Were Exceptionally Good


The Emotional Ad


One that was especially emotional, at least for me, was the one at the very end of the Super Bowl by Hyundai USA called “A Better Super Bowl.”

Go ahead and watch it first if you want and then we’ll talk more about it:


Why This Ad Worked:


What they did: They filmed our troops overseas watching and enjoying the Super Bowl, which in itself was wonderful. But then they pulled out three different soldiers and brought them into their own private rooms with large TV screens surrounding them to watch the Super Bowl.

How they tricked the Broca: Now these soldiers probably thought at first that they were having much more fun watching the game with their friends rather than sitting in a round room by themselves.

The kicker though, (and the surprise), was that Hyundai had invited the families of those 3 soldiers to the Super Bowl to experience it in person and had a camera on each family so the soldier and his or her family could actually see each other, enabling them to watch the Super Bowl “together.”

Why it connected and worked for me: My children are all military, so that absolutely melted my heart.


Besides that, the ad used several elements from “Made To Stick,” including:


1.   Simplicity: There Was One Core Message

Hyundai cared enough to bring the military families together even when they were oceans apart to share in the Super Bowl experience.

2.   Unexpectedness: A Priceless, Unexpected Shared Moment

Being able to watch the Super Bowl with their family was very unexpected and priceless. That message would filter through a person’s Broca who has been touched in his or her life by the military.

3.   Concreteness: You Never Had To Guess

You didn't have to guess what was going on, it was a very clear message

4.   Credibility: You See The Event Happening

You actually saw what the 3 soldiers were seeing when the screens came on with the Super Bowl playing and their families virtually sitting next to them.

5.   Emotions: That’s A Given

There were probably a lot of military families tearing up over that ad!

6.   Stories: There Was A Beginning, Middle & End

The ad actually told the story by showing the room full of soldiers watching and cheering the Super Bowl, and then pulling the 3 individuals out for their special treat.

All in all, I’d call that ad a Homerun! It’s a heartwarmer – and I remembered WHO did the ad, which is huge.


The Brilliant & Creative Ad


So, here’s another example of a great ad that played during the Super Bowl this year.

Let me first introduce this by saying that so many ads try to pull off:

  • the emotional pull;
  • or the funny, unexpected, surprise;
  • or deep-thought imagery.

But in the end, when you think back on it, you draw a complete blank trying to remember the actual company the ad was promoting.

For the life of you, you just can’t remember WHO did the ad. (And they spent $5 million for an ad where their brand name cannot even be recalled...(Um, fiasco or just plain tragedy?)

So, I must say, Skittles created an ad that was one of the most creative ads I’ve seen in quite a while. Check it out:



Here’s why it worked:


They hit all the markers.


1.   Simplistic: Classic and Relatable Scene

First, they used a familiar scene where a boy is throwing…”rocks” at a girl’s window?

Nope. Think again.


He was throwing Skittles at his girlfriend’s second-story window and calling her name.

So immediately it conjures up a familiar (and Simplistic) image in our mind.

But that’s where they brought in the Unexpected...

2.   Unexpected: What We Expect To See Next Was Not What Happened

What was the unexpected part?

Instead of showing what we expect to see next in this very familiar scene, Skittles threw us a curve ball.

The girl was sitting on the floor next to her bed catching the Skittles in her mouth, completely ignoring the boy’s pleas to come to the window.

That, in itself, was pretty funny.

BUT, wait for it…

They make the even more Unexpected happen…

One by one, Skittle by Skittle, her mother... her father… then her grandmother… then a robber… next a cop… the list goes on… all end up taking turns catching the Skittles in their mouths as they each scoot to the right.

It was truly a funny scene that brought an audible burst of laughter from everyone watching the game around me.

And it was one that was totally unanticipated. (And totally something my family would do if we were ever in that situation. Especially after seeing that commercial.)

3.   Concrete: They Never Left You Guessing

The reason they pulled off the Concreteness was because again, you didn’t have to guess what was going on. It was just pure magic.

4.   Emotions: They Nailed Bringing Out Emotion

The Emotions were both romantic and hilarious, so they nailed the emotional side.

Like I said, everyone in the room was laughing. We actually replayed it so we could laugh again.

If you’re able to evoke emotion out of an entire room, you know you’ve nailed it.

5.   Story: The Entire Set Up Is A Story We All Know So Well

It starts with a Story that is familiar: boy throwing rocks at his girlfriends window.

But since we know the story so well, that is why the unexpected and emotional factor worked so well.

6.   Credibility: They Use the Characters As Credibility

The fact that no one even pays attention to the boy throwing Skittles at the window because they are more concerned about eating them instead gives credibility to how delicious Skittles are.

Also, the fact that you have the robber, the cop and the parents, all unexpected characters, trying to get in on this Skittle action helps validate the tastiness of Skittles.

Who knows, maybe the fact that the boy was choosing to throw Skittles instead of rocks was his way of giving her flowers or chocolate. So, he gave her something sweet, which was romantic.


And those are just a few examples of some great ads that were shown during the Unexpected and Emotional Super Bowl LI this year (Super Bowl 51 for those of us that don’t remember roman numerals that go up that high!)

All in all, it was an exciting and unexpected evening whether your team won or lost. And the advertising world regained some mojo and credibility by actually putting out some really good ads this time.

Which ads were your favorites?? (Or least favorite??) Let us know!

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