What a game! Did you see that one play where the guy with the ball dropped back into the...umm...nickel defense to do that lateral protected strong safety...thing?
OK. I paid almost no attention to the Super Bowl this year. Evidently, I'm deep in the minority as this year's edition of the Biggest Big Game was the most watched thing on TV ever. The TV was definitely on during the game, and on the occasion that I glanced up from my frosty beverage it looked like it was a good one. Now that the ads are all online, I admit that I had little incentive to actually sit and watch.
Which is fine, because the real scores from the game - the ratings of the ads - didn't come out until a few days later anyhow. Everyone had a particular favorite, but the definitive list comes from Nielsen and reported by AdAge: the most recalled and most liked ads of the game. It's interesting to note that these are two totally different measures, as all of us in advertising know, but its worth remembering. Nielsen's methodology statements are:
The Recall score is the percentage of viewers who can Recall the brand of an ad they were exposed to during the normal course of viewing the Super Bowl.
The Likeability score is the percentage of viewers who report to like "a lot" an ad they were exposed to during the normal course of viewing the Super Bowl, among those recalling the brand of the ad.
The ad that scored the highest on recall was a Doritos spot where a guy taunts a dog.
The most liked ad was one for Volkswagen, showing a kid trying to use the Force.
These are two entirely different scores, of course. They are linked because you have to recall an ad in order to like it. The message boards and blogs devoted to advertising have been buzzing since the Super Bowl about these ads (as well as all the others). But the VW spot has been getting the most attention. It truly is a wonderful ad, in the classic format. It tells a story that is relevant to the target consumer, uses bold visuals, prominently features the product (and its logo), and demonstrates a defining product feature. It demonstrates clearly that, while much of advertising follows a format, it is a format that offers an endless supply of creative wealth.
Traditionally, though, a brand would seek to be recalled, more than they would seek out to be liked. Recall is the key element in a product purchase decision, after all. We want the consumer to walk into the store and think "Brand X, Brand X, Brand X" until they finally make a purchase.
It is long time to crush that traditional thinking.
Don't You Like "Like"?
The concept of ad likability far precedes the existence of social media and Facebook, but - now that we live in a social world - you can't help but make the connection between Liking an ad and Liking a brand. I would venture a guess that the ads that people like the most turn into the brands that get the most Likes (on Facebook that is).
The story of Super Bowl ads is a long and complicated one, but during the original dot-com boom of the late '90s, the practice of creating a single, big ad for the game became a popular and occasionally controversial topic. The challenge clearly became creating an ad that people would see and remember. Advertisers desperately wanted to make an impression. That's the way it has been over the last several years, with ads totally focused on either shocking visuals, scantily clad people (women), or base humor. Ads were remembered, but I don't know that anyone really enjoyed watching them.
Today, we are starting to recognize that one single ad never really stands alone. In a world where consumers live highly integrated and interconnected lives, we know that people bounce between broadcast, mobile, and interactive at an astonishing rate. You can see this with the VW ad, in fact, if you look at the spike in searches that include the words "VW" and "Darth." People clearly went directly from the ad to searching for it and watching it again. More importantly, it seems that people went to VW's Facebook page. It's not possible to know exactly how many more Likes the page got in the days since the Super Bowl, but it is clear from the comments that many people came there to express their pleasure in the ad.
Right now, though, the VW Facebook page doesn't seem to be doing a whole lot to build on that momentum. While it is compelling people to like the page, it isn't doing anything to continue the conversation that people want to engage in. Instead, it has slipped into a completely standard car website. Yawn. VW insists on saying what it wants to say, rather than paying attention to what people want to hear. People may be interested in the Passat and its features. But right now, in the afterglow of that ad they like so much, they want to talk about cute kids playing Star Wars.
This is the imperative right now. The standard advertising format of human story that reveals a product feature has clearly stood the test of time. This is the same pattern that they used on "Mad Men" last season to sell Glo-Coat. But this tactic must have a corollary attached to it. And if you abruptly switch to a pure product pitch, you will kill the momentum of the Liking that you have created.
Ultimately, this is why we need to begin thinking more about what happens after the commercial airs if we are going to truly be successful. While, in the past, a great ad could simply be a great ad, today, it has to be the initiation of a great conversation.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
March 19, 2014