Co-Founder & Managing Partner
As a football fan and a branding professional, I’m looking forward to the Super Bowl. Kansas City and San Francisco are great teams and, sure, there’s Travis and Taylor. But, while I certainly appreciate the play on the field, I’m much more adept at being armchair quarterback when it comes to refereeing the advertising. Given that many of the ads are available for pre-game viewing, I’m here to make a call on what I’ve seen.
Now, the theory of how to make a winning Super Bowl spot is pretty straightforward. You need a differentiated brand story (Super Bowl ads should aim to sell something), and brilliant creative execution. But, like the game, the theory is far easier than pulling off the execution.
Given my criteria, I’d say that more of the 2024 Super Bowl ads flail than win. Some stumble because they don’t check the “hey, look at me” box. For all the time and money spent, they’re likely not to get noticed, let alone remembered. They’re invisible, blend into the pixels. Then, there are myriad brands that do, absolutely, check the “memorable” box, but usually the result of celebrity endorsers or some other gimmicky borrowed interest (sock puppets, anyone?). Whether the antics of Tina Fey or Kate McKinnon, the icon power of Tom Brady or Lionel Messi, or the musical beats of Post Malone or Addison Rae, viewers will definitely talk about these ads, but may not recollect the product or service being sold, nor the reason they should buy it. They’ll be all in on the no-biz-like-showbiz aspect, but miss the message the business sponsor intended. The spots may sizzle, but the ROI stakes will likely fizzle.
Then, there are ads I deem to be very good, but that had the potential to be great. In the spirit of the day, they fumble on the ten-yard line. They’re close to achieving what amounts to a marketing touchdown, but there’s a bit of interference. Take beauty brand Dove’s ad, “Hard Knocks,” for example, the company’s first body positivity spot in the Super Bowl in nearly 20 years. The ad, produced by Ogilvy, puts the spotlight on the statistic that 45% of girls quit sports by age 14 because of low body confidence. The message is that what keeps girls from staying in the game is more the emotional trauma they can face during a time when their bodies are changing than the physical knocks they may face when engaged in participating.
Going beyond any particular product feature, and building on Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” platform,“Hard Knocks" stems from a great strategy and has a compelling story to tell, especially given the heightened awareness of the influence of social media on preteen and teenage self-image. So, why am I throwing a flag?
Yes, Dove did have the “right” playbook factors to win. It had the right strategy, the right story, wonderful casting and top-notch production, including familiar sing-along music from the Broadway blockbuster, Annie. Going forward, the brand even has the right line-up of campaign ambassadors, including Kylie Kelce, wife of NFL star Jason Kelce. But, with all that was “right,” there was one essential factor that Dove missed: an emotional connection. In my book, the ad doesn’t hold together. From upbeat to somber, back to upbeat, there are simply too many emotive transitions in this 30-second spot for it to qualify as “brilliant.” In advertising, as in football, getting it 90 percent of the way to the goal line doesn’t matter. Success is driven by nailing the execution 100 percent.
I’ve always been a fan of Dove’s campaigns and their efforts to champion self-esteem for girls. To date, their initiatives in this arena have been impressive, reaching more than 100 million young people globally in 150 countries since 2004. So, while I may have given Dove’s 2024 Super Bowl ad a bit of a hard knock, I do want to give them – and the women of all ages they support – my vote of confidence. My marketing two cents made, let’s watch some football.
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