I always watch the Super Bowl with a notebook in hand.
The pregame show, the interviews, and yes, of course the commercials… are a masterclass in storytelling. In fact, one of my first blog posts at On Life and Writing was about a Super Bowl ad.
And while Tom Brady and the Patriots have created a dynasty on the field, they have failed miserably over the years at storytelling.
(Just check out this map that shows unless you live in New England, you likely were thrilled with the outcome last night.)
So let’s talk about what we can learn as copywriters from the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl Copy Lesson #1: Nobody roots for the Empire
The Eagles and the Patriots had very different brand stories going into the game.
The Eagles were the blue-collar underdog. The city that needs a win.
The Patriots were the dynasty. The favored ones. And Tom Brady their Golden Boy. The record holder in just about every Super Bowl QB stat.
And Belichick and Brady perpetuated that story. What’s Belichick’s secret to success? Work hard, be the boss, and never look back.
Brady has a similar philosophy. That he sells for $200.
Success on its own is terrible for branding.
Think about the following people:
- Trust-fund billionaires who used Daddy’s money to create a successful company
- The chain store that forced out the mom and pop shop
- The Empire that rules the galaxy nearly unopposed
These are all successful people, but we don’t like them. We like to see a struggle. We like drama.
And the thing is, if you know about Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, they have incredible backstories.
Belichick was the most hated man in Cleveland during his coaching tenure there. And Tom Brady was a nobody backup quarterback at Michigan who had to see a sports psychologist to help him deal with his anxiety and frustration at being 7th on the depth chart before he became successful. Drafted in the 6th round, he was hardly recognized as the next big star.
(For more, I highly recommend The Education of a Coach as a lesson on overcoming odds and becoming a leader).
But the Brady/Belichick philosophy of “never look back” means that these stories aren’t shared anymore. They are winners and that’s all anyone needs to know.
Contrast that to the Eagles who are more like the “Sandlot” or “The Big Green” or [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE SPORTS MOVIE HERE]. They are the guys that aren’t supposed to win. The Rebel Force fighting the Empire. And that makes them very easy to like.
So what does that mean for you?
Success is good. But, telling your success story without the struggle can make you unlikeable. How did you get where you are? What did you have to overcome? Share those in your copy. Always be the rebels. Never the Empire.
Super Bowl Copy Lesson #2: To be memorable, call out the naked emperor
Alright, it’s time for the fun stuff. The commercials.
Great commercials have staying power. They stick way down in your brain and never leave.
That was even the theory behind Sesame Street. Founder Joan Ganz Cooney thought that if 3- and 4-year-olds were singing beer jingles, then TV could also be a force for good.
And this year, one ad took this to the next level.
Did you guess?
“It’s a Tide Ad”
Tides 4 spots meant that we were actively looking for Tide ads. Every commercial had the potential to be Tide in disguise. And it made that “other” detergent commercial seem silly and bland. So much so that many of us were waiting for Tide to take it over.
Tide called out the emperor’s clothes, quite literally. Every ad had clean clothes. And Super Bowl ads are insanely predictable. My personal favorite was the use of the Clydesdale.
What does this mean for you?
Calling out a trope in your industry can be an insanely effective way to stay top of mind. Every time one of your potential clients sees these tropes, they’ll think of you. Here’s a few people who have done this with success:
Super Bowl Copy Lesson #3: In today’s world, you need to take a stand
Next week, I’ll be speaking at The Copywriter Club event. In addition to a talk about voice, I’ll be on a panel with 5 other writers about IMPACT.
People expect more from the companies they interact with. They want to do business with companies that focus on ways to make the world better — not just ways to make more money.
This was probably the biggest thread throughout the Superbowl this year.
Plus, one from Budweiser that gave away the best-kept disaster responder secret:
It always felt like a bit of an “in club” to know that those Budweiser water cans existed. I’d partaken in them many times through my work with Team Rubicon. Seeing the ad made me wonder how many times that one guy in the ad department had pitched it over the years.
What does this mean for you?
Like I said in the beginning of the article, it’s not enough to be successful. It’s what you do with that success that matters. People like working with people that do good. So what can you do to make an impact? And how can you share that with the world.
Now from you…
I’d love to hear your take on the Super Bowl this year. What stood out to you?