Learn from the Marketing Mistakes of the Big Brands


It’s that time of year again, the season of Super Bowl advertising hype.

Most of the news about Super Bowl advertising is gushinglaudatory praise of those companies who participate.

These companies, who will spend $4.5 million for a 30-second ad, are taking advantage of a rare opportunity, so we are told, to reach more than 100 million people. Only by advertising on the Super Bowl can your message be seen by so many people at one time.

But why is it better to reach more people at one time?

I believe that virtually all of the money spent on Super Bowl advertising is a waste. Most companies would be better off if they didn’t spend $150,000 per second to blast their message out during the big game, because they will not get a good return on this investment, even when you consider all of the other “buzz” and collateral exposure that surrounds Super Bowl advertising.

I assume few of my readers are involved in Super Bowl advertising this year, but all of us can learn from the mistakes of these large companies. Here are the four lessons we can all learn:

Lesson 1: It is not better to reach more customers at one time

The most common form of Super Bowl hype is the idea that this is the only time advertisers can reach such a large audience at one time. So what?

Whenever you reach a broader audience with your marketing message, you are, by definition, reaching more people who aren’t interested in your message.  Let’s say that 5 million of the 100 million people watching the Super Bowl are interested in your ad. That means you are paying to show your ad to 95 million people who don’t care. And NBC is not offering advertisers a “volume discount” to reach this many people; the cost per thousand viewers (CPM) for the Super Bowl this year is about $40, which is not an especially good deal.

So why is it better to reach more people? Why not reach the right number of people, at the right times, with the right messages?

Similarly, if you work for a smaller company, don’t be lulled into believing that a message reaching more people is better than one reaching fewer people. Don’t spread your messages a mile wide and an inch deep; do the opposite and be narrow and deep.

Lesson 2: “Capturing eyeballs” is not a marketing goal

There is no doubt that the Super Bowl is a TV event in which people actually look forward to watching the commercials, and this is often used as a reason to justify the large investments companies make in these ads. But the goal of advertising and other marketing communications is not to get people to see our messages, it is to get them to buy from us. You don’t make money just because someone laughs at your ad.

Lesson 3: Don’t concentrate too much of your budget in one place

If you think about what causes people to buy from you, it doesn’t take long to realize that advertising is only one of many inputs to that process. And, more importantly, advertising is usually a very weak driver of purchase behavior. It is critical to allocate your marketing spending in a way that enables you to create an integrated set of experiences for your customers, creating a sense of brand harmony that helps them form powerful beliefs about your company and/or its products.

Maybe Bud Light and Coke can afford to put so many eggs in one basket, but most other companies, including yours, can’t afford to concentrate so much of their marketing in one place.  Loctite, the maker of Super Glue, is putting nearly all of its 2015 ad budget  on one Super Bowl ad this year. If that doesn’t work out for them, at least they will have 11 months to plan for 2016. And Avocados from Mexico is spending $4.5 million on one ad. That’s a lot of guacamole!

Lesson 4: Marketing strategy is rarely good when it is dictated by what other companies are doing

Many companies advertise on the Super Bowl or other large events because they believe it is important to be seen in this venue along with other large advertisers, especially if those other advertisers are their competitors.  That’s why six different automobile brands will be advertised during this year’s Super Bowl.

I have seen many companies base their marketing strategies on what their competition is doing. This is rarely a good idea, for two reasons. One, your business issues are different than the competition’s. Second, your competitors are most likely not marketing experts. So why should you follow them?

Who wins from this Super Bowl advertising madness?  The advertising agencies and the networks. Have a look at an interview I did on the Fox Business Network with Neil Cavuto in 2009, a year that Fox carried the Super Bowl. Cavuto makes no secret that he is out to prove me wrong, because his parent company was making so much money from selling expensive ads to eager buyers.

So let’s learn these four big lessons from the big brands and take a strategic, comprehensive and harmonious approach to our marketing.

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