Innovation and Football: Game Plans and Power Outages

by | Monday, February 4th, 2013

Super Bowl 2013 has come and gone. If you consider the long history of football, the game hasn’t changed much. But American football HAS proved innovative — in terms of end zone technology, player equipment, and individual player performance. Advertisers also have an opportunity to be innovative with the Super Bowl, a television event when tens of millions of viewers are conditioned to actually watch and discuss the commercials. Of course, that opportunity is priced accordingly, so the pressure’s on any company willing to pony up $4 million for a 30-second spot.

What’s the best game plan, then, for those companies that can and choose to invest in Super Bowl advertising? Play it safe with the tried and true, or be innovative like Apple was with its legendary “1984” ad during Super Bowl XVIII? Is it possible to do both?

Innovation is about creating sustainable value, which Apple certainly has enjoyed since 1984 (despite their best efforts to tear it all down with the following year’s “Lemmings” Super Bowl spot). But as we’ve seen with Budweiser, innovation doesn’t have to be different or edgy; tugging at viewers’ heartstrings has once again paid dividends for the beer maker, as their most recent Clydesdales ad is topping many “favorite commercial” lists in the wake of Super Bowl XLVII. But will it sell more beer?


This year auto makers pushed people’s emotional buttons with a narrative from an engaging figure; last year it was Clint Eastwood, this year it was Oprah Winfrey and Paul Harvey. Not necessarily innovative in terms if moving advertising forward in an earth-shaking way, but if the approach sells more cars and trucks in the long term, then innovative it is.

And what about GoDaddy and E*Trade? Sexual themes and talking babies aren’t exactly high-brow innovations, but those companies have stayed true to their respective advertising identities for years. If the results drive domain names purchased and boost stock transactions, are we seeing actual innovation from the unlikeliest of sources?

Several advertisers seized on the Superdome power outage – aka the Super Bowl Blackout – most notably Oreo, Tide, Audi and SodaStream. They made the Super Bowl power outage work for them. Chances are that from here on out, companies will have to be on their toes during the game and react accordingly, especially next year when the halftime show will take place in potentially sub-freezing temperatures. After all, true innovators adapt to change and pivot accordingly — even at a moment’s notice. Is the end result merely an avalanche of accolades from others in the industry, or is there actual ROI from this type of real-time marketing? 

Perhaps the most intriguing question: how many new customers did GoDaddy or Taco Bell or Budweiser, et al gain as a result of their ad spending? Was the ROI in the negative numbers? Is ROI even the RIGHT metric?

What’s your take? Which — if any — 2013 Super Bowl advertisers were “truly innovative” in terms of creating sustainable value?

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