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5 Lessons Marketers can Take from the Super Bowl

Super-BowlI didn’t go into the Super Bowl being a fan of either the Seahawks or the Broncos, but by the end of the game I was once again reminded that this annual spectacle can teach us marketers quite a few things about engagement.

It wouldn’t have mattered if the Broncos staged an incredible comeback because it’s always the camaraderie of the players, the dedication of the fans and pure athleticism that win over. As I watched, I realized there is a loyalty lesson we can take from the players who, big as they are, manage to locate the soft spot in so many hearts. Without knowing the fans individually, the athletes connect by embracing the values we all hold dear – facing down obstacles, trudging the extra mile and displaying childlike joy over incremental victories.

Following the game, it occurred to me that this was just one of many lessons marketers can take from the Super Bowl. The whole event is staged to engage the fans and test their commitment. So with the season behind us but the plays still running in our heads, here are five elements of the Super Bowl from which we can learn:

The advertising: From the freaky-dog spot by Audi to the adorable Cheerios child, Super Bowl ads accomplish what all marketers strive for – keeping the target market engaged during off-peak times. In some years, the ads are the best part of the game (I’m thinking 1999 in particular). But in addition to keeping viewers tuned in, the ads demonstrate the opportunities of using “partnerships” to add value to the entire experience. It may be a bit of a stretch, but the opportunity to work with partners to enhance the brand experience means the brand doesn’t have to do it all on its own. Marketers should ask themselves: Are there components of my brand that could be enriched through the activity of others?

The halftime show: While the mid-game show itself is a tradition, the headliner is highly anticipated and the performance itself is a surprise – the light shows, unannounced guests and costumes a complimentary perk. We all can’t get Bruno Mars, but any organization can provide its loyalty members their own version of the halftime show – a bit of entertainment to reward them for sticking with the brand, and ensuring they will stay. It’s important to be sure the entertainment aligns with the brand – a piano player at Nordstrom may be pitch perfect, but at Abercrombie he would be off key.

The teams: We’re not all Broncos or Seahawks fans, but most viewers (like me) end up aligning themselves with one team or another for emotional reasons, either because we have ties to a particular city or like a certain player. Football teams, even losing teams, engage their fans emotionally and the best ones retain those fans no matter what. Anyone who’s watched a Cleveland Browns home game knows this. The best brands create emotional connections with their customers by making them feel like they are an important part of a team.

The personalities: The Seahawks never before won a Super Bowl, yet one player’s behavior risked the entire team’s image following the conference title game. Fortunately, the team as a whole focused on what was important and pulled together during the big game. Coaches and teammates can argue they have little control of a player’s emotional outbursts, but then they have little control of the backlash. The same goes for managers and marketers – the best way to project the desired brand image is by fostering it among employees.

The stadium: By putting the game in an open stadium this year, the Super Bowl tested the depth of its fan loyalty.  And while the weather was surprisingly mild, I’m sure a lot of the ticket holders would have preferred San Diego to East Rutherford, N.J., in February. Still, they came. The lesson: Be where your customers want to be, or give them a reason to want come to you. Ikea stores tend to operate far out in the suburbs of many major cities, yet people trek for hours to purchase the household merchant’s oddly named foldout couches, patterned drapes and floor lamps. And then there are the Swedish meatballs (see Halftime Show).

Those are my top five. Notice I did not mention anything about the food. That’s because Super Bowl munchies are a byproduct of the game, like souvenir buying at Disney World. Eating and drinking at the Super Bowl is evidence of its effectiveness; the desired behavior of the game’s sponsors who advertise beer and snacks.

If that is not an example of influencing consumer behavior, I’ll eat another bowl of chips.

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