The dust is settling after last week’s exciting Super Bowl. Emotions certainly ran high for those watching the game. Here at Forrester, we were also interested in the longer-term sentiment about the ads that aired during the show. So we reached out to consumers again after a week to capture consumers’ reactions to the Super Bowl ads, to ask them which they liked most, and to ask which made a lasting impression.
As my colleague Jim Nail pointed out in a blog post , this year’s ads did not always resonate positively (if at all) with audiences. That said, our ConsumerVoices market research online community members were most likely to mention 84 Lumber, Audi, and Anheuser-Busch/Budweiser as memorable ads that influenced their opinions of the respective companies.
In the case of 84 Lumber’s and Anheuser-Busch’s focus on immigration, sentiment was sharply split. Quite a few consumers were further turned off when 84 Lumber’s CEO declared that the ad was not intended to be pro-immigration, adding more confusion to consumers’ perception of the brand and its values. On the other hand, Audi’s ad addressing gender equality in pay sparked a different controversy. Although Audi is an aspirational luxury brand, the message was seen as bold and received in good faith, producing a more positive sentiment overall.
Out of a generally uninspiring batch of ads this year, one trend stood out: brands using the largest ad platform in the US to align their brand with social and political values that generally are thought to have no place in the bottom-line world of driving quarterly business results. Social media listening firm Talkwalker notes that 5 of the top 10 most talked about ads have a social or political theme and generated strong positive sentiment: Budweiser, Audi, Coca-Cola, 84 Lumber, and AirBnB.
Not all ads attempting to align a brand with societal values were successful: Audi’s attempt to take a stand on gender pay equity lacked a credible connection to this testosterone-fueled luxury car. And, of course, taking a stand risks alienating consumers who disagree. Since Budweiser’s “Born the Hard Way” ad was originally conceived long before the election, I’m not convinced they were trying to make a statement about immigration policy. But it is certainly being seen in that tone and has brought out a fair share of trolls commenting on YouTube.
These brands are acknowledging that the idea that “the business of business is business” is changing. Along with my colleagues Henry Peyret, Brigitte Majewski, Alex Cullen and Drew Green, I have been exploring the changing nature of how consumers incorporate these broader values into their brand decisions. Stay tuned for the report but our research tells us 3 things a brand must do to walk this delicate line in today’s polarized environment.
Carefully consider where your brand should be on what Carol Cone calls “The Purpose Spectrum”
Be authentic and back up the words with tangible commitments
The 2015 Super Bowl had 114 million viewers – making it the most watched television event in US history according to Nielson data. Forrester used its Technographics 360 approach, which combines multiple data sources, to understand how consumers used their smartphones on the big day.
Forrester tracked the smartphone behavior of 879 US online smartphone owners (18+) during the dates surrounding the Super Bowl as well as on the day itself. To better understand these mobile behaviors and add further context, Forrester engaged a group of 157 US participants (18+) in our ConsumerVoices online community. Finally, to capture the nature of public conversation overall, we leveraged social listening to explore topics and sentiment throughout the day across US consumers’ social media posts.
Between the tackles and touchdowns of Super Bowl XLVIII, about 35 brands went head to head in a competition for consumer attention by airing highly anticipated commercials at $130,000 per second. Which brands won? It’s hard to tell: Bets were in well before Sunday, play-by-plays have been highlighted, trends analyzed, and commentators are still discussing them.
The truth is that the games have just begun. For consumers, the Super Bowl ad spectacle is part of the “discovery” phase — the first of four stages constituting Forrester’s customer life cycle — as commercials educate markets about a new product or momentarily make an impression on individuals. The resulting waves of social chatter now rippling across the Web amplify each brand’s capacity to be noticed.
Every few years we marketers think we have digital figured out. First it was websites, then it was about eBusiness strategy, then came social, and more recently, we're all about mobile. These are all good things, to be sure, but conquering any one of these – or all of them together – still misses the larger point: Digital disruption is bigger than any of them on their own, and it is nowhere near finished turning the marketing and advertising world upside down.
Consider the Super Bowl. Every year the big game captures more eyeballs and, along with them, more ad dollars. Some point to continued TV spend as evidence that people are in denial about the role of digital, as Adobe did with its clever spoof on Super Bowl ads this year. But note that some of the most prominent ads in Super Bowl 2013 encouraged an expressly digital component – from Budweiser's name-the-pony campaign to Oreo's crowd-pleasing Cream or Cookie campaign, tagged with "Choose your side on Instagram @OREO." The most elaborate of these was the Coke Chase, a Twitter-based real-time voting campaign that earned @cocacola nearly a thousand more Twitter followers on game day, according to Twittercounter.com.
These are worthy – and relatively cheap – forays into making TV ads more, rather than less, relevant in a digitally disruptive era. But these all miss the broader point about the power of digital. Digital won't just disrupt the way brands communicate with consumers, it will afford those brands the chance to build a direct digital relationship with those consumers. If they don't blow it, standing idle while someone else grabs that relationship first.