What startups can learn from the 2018 Super Bowl commercials

By Hannah Lindstadt February 7, 2018
Super Bowl commercials

TV advertising is notoriously expensive. Not only do you need to pay someone to create the content (crossing your fingers it doesn’t come out looking like a cheap infomercial), but then there is the gut-wrenching part where you shell out thousands of dollars for mere seconds of airtime.  

Small businesses and startups rightfully shouldn’t spend even two seconds contemplating splurging the rumored 5 million USD for just 30 seconds of ad time big brands spent this year for their commercials during the 2018 Super Bowl. But that doesn’t mean that startups looking to get their company publicity, have nothing to learn from analyzing one of the highest price tag advertising events of the year.   

The high-stakes mean companies enlist the top talent, and pull out all the latest tricks to make sure they get as much value as possible for the money spent, and marketing and advertisers of any budget can learn from their success and failure. With that in mind, here are three important advertising trends I spotted in the 2018 Super Bowl commercials. 

Ads need to be creative

The Super Bowl was watched live this year by an estimated 47.4% of US households, and no small percentage of those viewers at some point during the game made the standard joke- I am only here for the commercials. Advertising has changed, and you may have noticed this year, the ads were star-studded, pretty entertaining, and even at times, meta (Tide’s avant-garde commercial twists had us beginning to feel anything seen during the Super Bowl might turn out to be a Tide ad).


-Tide, 2018 Super Bowl Commercial

This is because today’s advertising has to be eye-catching, and preferably, not even feel like an ad. This should be easy for startups to get right, as innovation companies are already well known for their clever and eye-catching names as well as their playful brand logos and colors. But frequently, startups seem to think that their innovative company idea is enough, and end up opting for a bland tech voice that pulls out all the same old clichés of every other startup out there. What the Super Bowl commercials should remind startups, is that getting the word out about your company should not look like a Wikipedia page, and it shouldn’t feel like an ad.

Everyone’s attention span is way too short for boring, run of the mill, testimonials, and dry marketing jargon. Aim instead for eye-catching and playful, and make sure the marketing budget takes the cost of creativity into consideration.

Ads should be relevant to the audience

Ad targeting is finally being recognized as essential in the advertising and marketing industry. The idea is deceptively simple “make sure your ads are reaching an audience that would actually want the product,” but it’s critically important to get right. Nearly all the Super Bowl commercials last Sunday, made “sense” when you think about the audience and context of the Super Bowl. Who is the audience? Nearly bloody everyone in the US, with an emphasis on males, in the context of eating some snacks, having some drinks, and socializing.

The brands that want to target a massive audience like the one the Super Bowl attracts are brands that sell simple to understand, mas appeal, repeat purchase, to consumers, that are generally affordable (with a few big-ticket car brand exceptions to be sure). So everyone knows what types of products and brands are going to be showcasing themselves; snacks (Doritos, Pringles, M&M’s, Coke), phone services that allow fans to stream sports (Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon), some manly movies and shows (Netflix, the Mission Impossible trailer) and of course, beer (Bud Light, Michelob ULTRA, Budweiser). No Toys R-US, no Depends adult diapers, just perfectly targeted ads for the viewing audience. 


-Doritos and Mountain Dew Ice, 2018 Super Bowl Commercial

When creating a marketing strategy for your budding business, you need to make sure that whatever advertising medium you decide to use, you consider how to best target the audience that will find your message relevant, and all advertising efforts are not equal. 33% of internet users describe display ads as “intolerable,” and 28% actively attempt to hide their online activities from advertisers, because irrelevant advertisements popping into our lives are not just a nuisance, they are infuriating. 

“It doesn’t matter how much money you pump into an advertising or marketing campaign, you can’t, and really shouldn’t try to sell someone something they don’t want or need. Marketing today is about using the wealth of data available to target the right audience with a timely and relevant message. The shift in thinking improves ROI for marketers and improves the experience of marketing for the general public, which are both good things,” says Kazu Takiguchi, co-founder at ReFuel4, which has been leading the charge against “ad fatigue” with their democratic creative services platform.

By using advanced ad retargeting technologies, or native advertising (choosing to advertise on websites with content and themes that closely align with the content of the ads) startups can improve the relevance of their ads and avoid looking out of place, advertising to uninterested audiences, and generally annoying the **** out of everyone. 

Virality is not the be-all and end-all of marketing and advertising

The main takeaway for startups from the Super Bowl should be, that Startups shouldn’t get too caught up in the social media numbers game. Views and likes do not mean that marketing departments are adding real value to a company. Infamy does not directly correlate to increased sales, or increased funding. It’s more important that the right people are hearing your message, than a lot of people are.

Many of the big companies that buy ad time during the Super Bowl, in all honesty, really don’t need to. For them it’s more of an ego boost at this point. Like the inspirational commercial by Toyota, featuring Paralympian Lauren Woolstencraft, which honestly, had nothing to do with Toyota at all.  


-Toyota, 2018 Super Bowl Commercial

The big boys like Ford can afford to toss a bit of money towards the vanity of their brand. But what’s dangerous is “lean” startups also often get distracted chasing vanity marketing metrics that really don’t correlate to actual ROI.  Startups can use the Super Bowl’s advertising as a reminder to focus on whats important.

-This story was first seen on Startup Scribes.