Super Bowl ads win by playing to viewers' emotions, experts say
The celebrity endorsements will be everywhere Sunday.
Socialite Kim Kardashian, actor Pierce Brosnan, comedian Mindy Kaling and even a bunch of Victoria's Secret supermodels will appear in Super Bowl commercials.
But if advertisers want to get the most bang for their buck — a 30-second ad this year costs $4.5 million — they ought to forget the big names and invest in emotional appeals to their customers, according to University of Pittsburgh marketing professor Nicole Verrochi Coleman.
Advertisements that connect emotionally with a viewer are more effective at influencing behavior than using a celebrity, and the companies that understand how to connect with their consumers' feelings are going to be Sunday's big winners, she said.
“There's a whole host of emotions out there. The question is, what emotions do you want to use given that emotions can be more effective?” Coleman said. “Certain specific emotions speak to what elements we are.”
Perhaps the biggest star during the game Sunday will be “Dad.”
A commercial for Dove-branded products features a series of touching moments between child and father — a toddler jumping into his arms in a pool, a dad combing his child's hair, the ceremonial father-daughter dance at a wedding — as part of a “real strength” campaign.
There are no celebrities, but the narrative connects to a different male identity not often featured during sporting events, one in which men are engaged fathers and not superstar athletes or the bumbling buffoons often featured in beer commercials.
“This Dove commercial is a brilliant example,” Coleman said. “We usually think of men, generally, in the more aggressive style. Dove is choosing a very specific male identity, the dad.”
Last year, H.J. Heinz Co. sought an emotional connection with consumers through its “Hum” commercial. The 30-second spot featured scenes of everyday people — a cop in a diner, a family sitting around a campfire, a group of tailgaters — tapping on a bottle of Heinz ketchup and humming the children's tune, “If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands.”
The commercial ranked among the more well-received Super Bowl ads last year, coming in at 19th out of 50, according to SpotBowl, a website run by Harrisburg advertising firm Pavone that lets people vote for their favorite Super Bowl ads.
Heinz isn't running an ad during the game this year but considered last year's campaign a success, said Joe Giallanella, brand manager, H.J. Heinz.
“We enjoyed great success in debuting our Heinz Ketchup commercial, ‘Hum,' during last year's Super Bowl,” Giallanella wrote in an email. “We aimed to rekindle the emotional connection our fans have with our iconic product and remind them of the happiness that comes when Heinz is a part of mealtime.”
Sentimentality was at the center of one of last year's highest-ranked commercials on SpotBowl — a Budweiser spot called “puppy love” that featured a friendship between a dog and the famous Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales.
But not every successful ad has to be a tearjerker, Coleman said. It depends on the feelings associated with whatever identity the consumer assumes or, put another way, whatever “hat” we're wearing.
A woman who is both a mom and a professional attorney may associate different feelings with those two roles. The “mom” part of her could be receptive to warmer emotional ads, while the lawyer in her might respond to an aggressive appeal. Advertisers need to understand which identity they want to appeal to.
Not to say that celebrity endorsements are never effective, said Kirk Wakefield, a professor of retail marketing at Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business. Especially when time is money, celebrities offer a way to establish a quick connection without spending 30 to 60 seconds teasing out a story.
“Celebrities grab attention,” he said. “I think that's why brands use them.”
Chris Fleisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or email@example.com.