Escape From Super Bowl Advertising Hell

The quality of Super Bowl ads often rivals the game itself, and yet every year brands will make missteps. Viewers will cringe, be bored, stop watching. Cartoonist Tom Fishburne sketches out the common stumbling blocks that leave brands writhing in the advertising pit of despair.


This year, it’ll cost you $116,666 per second to reach viewers of Super Bowl XLVI. And the buzz surrounding this Sunday’s spots is directly proportional to the massive price tag–more media
outlets are talking about the upcoming ads, it seems, than the competing teams (Fast Company‘s guilty on all counts, too).

I called on the talents of cartoonist Tom Fishburne to shine a humorous light on the most common ways Super Bowl advertising can go oh so wrong. Special thanks and kudos to Tom’s terrific talent. First, let’s look at what’s working with Super Bowl advertising. 

Zero to Sixty
Last year’s Volkswagen ad (Darth Vader Star Wars theme) was the favorite, and other automotive manufacturers frantically ripped off VW’s “pre-game buzz” tactics for 2012. According to Kantar Media, the 2011 Super Bowl set a new record for auto manufacturer advertising–a staggering $77.5 million spent on 18 messages for nine different brands. And the 2012 game will have another glut of car ads–Kantar predicts at least eight different auto companies will go head-to-head in the battle of the ad.


Social Media Mania
While the Super Bowl is always the advertising event of the year, this year, it’s also become the social media event of the year. Advertisers are banking that viewers will follow the little screen in their lap just as much as the big one in their living room.

Coke is hosting a live game day watching party on Facebook with its polar bears reacting to the Super Bowl and social media in real time. Others have been drip-feeding teasers of their ads on social media for weeks leading up the games.

Itʼs a big step from last year, when Audi tried to make a lot of hay out of just using a Twitter hashtag at the end of their ad.


What Can Go Wrong–And Will
The quality of Super Bowl ads, as we’ve seen, often rivals the game itself. As marketers, we should all aim to create marketing so good people choose–and are even eager–to watch. During the Super Bowl, the audience is captive. In most of our marketing lives, the audience is anything but.

And yet, this year, as every year, brands will make missteps. Viewers will cringe, be bored, stop watching. In light of all of this, here are insights designed to help all of us sidestep the hell of Super Bowl advertising. 

1. QR Codes: Not the MVP Everyone Expected
Social media integration canʼt help an ad that isnʼt
inherently worth sharing. Remember when QR codes were “the next big
thing”? Advertisers lost sight of the big picture and leapt
headfirst onto new social tactics, forgetting that tactics and channels
arenʼt the big thing–ideas are. (Remember how fax machines were going
to revolutionize the marketing world? Then the Internet was the next great gold
rush? Then social media…pass the chips, wouldja?)


2. Cannes You Handle the Truth?
Advertisers also have a habit of chasing awards over business results. Cannes, Art Directors Club, Clio, One Club, and the list goes on. Companies sometimes aim for shock value over brand value. We can all recall one or two ads that made us (or Don Draper) cringe, thinking, “Who the hell green-lit that?” No list is needed here, you can think of your own examples.

3. If Lawyers Ruled Our World
At the other extreme is risk aversion. Ads that play it safe won’t be
remembered. Advertising is littered with ideas that ran the gauntlet between agency and client, only to lose the power of the idea along the way.


What Have We Learned?
We are all in business to win with our branding, with our message and with our advertising. The best ads in this year’s race for fame and fortune won’t merely be a sign of creative brilliance. They will signal a deeper creative collaboration between client and agency. The best brands (and advertising) have been a tight collaboration of vision and execution, pushing creative boundaries and connections to remarkable business results. I know that Tom and I are looking forward to Sunday, social media in hand.

Thanks to Tom Fishburne, founder and CEO of Marketoonist, a content marketing agency that develops cartoon campaigns for businesses such as Unilever, O2, Kronos, and the Wall Street Journal. He was previously a VP at Method, the innovative home care brand, and led brands at Nestle and General Mills. He learned how to draw cartoons at Harvard Business School. Sign up for his weekly marketoons at

–This is the first in a series of posts on HELL and escaping its grasp. Stay tuned for upcoming installments including, How to Escape Innovation Hell, How to Escape Social Media Hell, and How to Escape Logo Hell. 


“If you’re using clichés, you’re promoting your category, not your business.” David Brier

The secret weapon to successful businesses and cities that can’t stand complacency or me-too, vanilla branding, David Brier is an award-winning brand identity specialist, package designer and branding expert. His firm’s work can be regularly found in blogs, publications and award annuals. David is also the author of Defying Gravity and Rising Above the Noise. David’s series of videos shed new light on real branding in these short TV interviews. His YouTube channel routinely provides inspired and thought-provoking videos which you can see here


Request your own free copy of David’s eBook, “The Lucky Brand” here.


About the author

Brand identity expert, veteran designer, author, speaker and Fast Company expert blogger. Shark Tank investor and CEO of fashion brand Fubu, Daymond John states, "David Brier is brilliant with branding." He’s been written about in, INC and Fortune Small Business. In addition to being a branding specialist and a Fast Company expert blogger, David's Slideshare presentations on branding have exceeded the 500,000 view milestone (a founding member of Slideshare's Half-a-Million Views Club) and is the 1st place winner in the 2013 Shorty Awards (known industry-wide as “The Oscars for Social Media”) for branding


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