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Small Business Can Learn from Big Budget Super Bowl Commercials

With a potential reach of more than a hundred million people, Super Bowl commercials have become the high point of the year for many advertisers. Every year, companies battle to come up with the best, most memorable and catchy commercials to try and win over the audience. It’s become an extremely expensive endeavor—a 30 second spot cost $4.5 million at the last Super Bowl, compared to $37,500 for during Super Bowl I in the 1960s. That’s just the cost to air it once—the price of making the ads, with their celebrity cameos and special effects, can easily push the price of production in to the millions as well.

Small Business Tips from Big Advertisers

Some small companies dedicate more than 10% of their annual media budget just to air a spot during the Super Bowl, according to the Wall Street Journal. If the idea of spending millions of dollars for 30 seconds of airtime sounds too risky for your organization, there are still other ways to make the most of this major marketing season.

Savvy companies can ‘piggy-back’ onto the Super Bowl hype by using social media. By targeting other areas that also get a lot of attention during game day—pizza delivery for instance—you can catch some of the captive audience without having to pay the high fee of booking a TV slot.

Some companies take another route by using the hype of the Super Bowl to get talked about, without actually needing to get a commercial slot during the game itself. By coming up with ads that mention the Super Bowl in a clever or indirect way but air at other times or go viral online—think Newcastle’s Anna Kendrick commercial—these companies can also key into that mega-audience, and even occasionally generate more buzz than a spot that airs during the game.

Market Research

You can also use the Super Bowl as market research. Find out what worked and what didn’t, check twitter to see which commercials trended and which ones flopped. Following every Super Bowl there is always a flood of articles analyzing the best and worst commercials of the year, with valuable insight as to why they resonated (or didn’t) with the crowds. By using the feedback you can gather online (without having to spend a dime), you can calculate what might work for your brand in your own advertising campaign, perhaps on a smaller scale that is easier on the budget.

While playing off of popular themes is a smart way to go, be very careful that you don’t plagiarize or create something too close to the original. If there is a certain commercial that you think was well executed and you would like something similar, that’s fine, but don’t copy them. Use their commercial to inspire yours, but don’t rip them off by just copying their idea and using their hard work to gain you customers. It won’t end well. It’s safer to look at broader themes that you can created wholly original campaigns around, such as determining if your target audience responds better to sentimental or funny commercials.

We recommend you stay far away from using the words "Super Bowl" in any of your advertising to ensure compliance with the NFL trademarks and ensure that you don't get a cease and desist letter. They have deep pockets and are willing to use them as was evident with an unlucky Indiana Church. Using the name to specifically refer to the event is legal under what is called "nominative fair use".  Basically it allows you to use the trademarked term when there is no better way to refer to it so long as it doesn't appear to promote your product or service where advertising might imply a false sponsorship or affiliation with the NFL.

As we’ve seen over the years, simply putting a celebrity in your ad or playing around with blockbuster-movie-level production doesn’t mean your commercial will be a success. For every successful commercial, there are bound to be a few flops.

Advertising Tips for Small Business Owners

Whether you’re creating an ad for Super Sunday or you’re working in a smaller market and on a smaller scale, here are some tips we’ve learned from successful Super Bowl commercials of the past that might work well for you.

  • Be inspirational – challenge stereotypes
  • Keep it simple and to the point
  • Pull at the heartstrings
  • Use animals – didn’t you tear up at Budweiser’s ‘lost dog’ commercial?
  • Be disruptive – do something that surprises people and catches them off-guard
  • Play on clichés and puns – this helps make the commercial memorable
  • Make it family friendly

From the flops or ads that ended up being talked about for all the wrong reasons, here are some things you should avoid.

  • Don’t make something that could be seen as offensive, by anyone. Making people angry at your brand is not good for your reputation.
  • Don’t insult your key audience. This is especially important to keep in mind when creating “funny” commercials, which can quickly cross a line.
  • Don’t plagiarize or violate copyright laws—come up with your own original story line.
  • Don’t kill the mood. Nationwide’s ‘Dead Kid’ commercial last year didn’t go down well for that very reason. It started off with the kind of feel good tone you’d expect from Super Bowl ads, and then the bubble suddenly burst in one of the saddest ways possible. The reaction on Twitter was overwhelmingly negative, which is not really the outcome that an insurance company (or any brand really) would want.

As a small business, you might not have millions to throw at a campaign, but you can still create a great commercial. With a little creativity, you can even grab some attention during that one time of year people actually pay attention to the commercials. 

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