Published in ClickZ on February 4, 2015.

A look back at this year's bevy of ads from the big game - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Now that the Super Bowl is over, it’s time for us marketers to have some fun analyzing the advertisements. There are lots of articles already talking about people’s reaction to the ads – the fact that many of the ads put a damper on the celebratory mood of Super Bowl parties around the country, and that a few (foot fungus, especially) made people just plain uncomfortable (most of us are eating after all!).

I can say that at my house, we were taking to guessing what we thought they were advertising in some cases. Honestly, I can’t recall a more uninspired Super Bowl commercial lineup (not all, but in aggregate). I had hoped for and expected better. It felt to me that only some of the advertisers had invested in "Super Bowl-worthy" ads, instead running standard ads in the prime spots due to the expense of the placement itself.

All this said, I won’t delve deep into the commentary I already see posted, instead choosing to observe some of the general themes.

In Effort to Be Real, Brands Went Serious.

We all realize that brands are trying to demonstrate authenticity and truly engage with their audiences via storytelling – but I think we may have gone a little far, forgetting the context of the outlet and the mood of the audience. The Super Bowl is an annual national sporting event, a cause for gatherings and parties – a celebration! A show. People are seeking entertainment. For years the Super Bowl ads were equated with creativity, humor, and surprise. Marketers, let’s please remember context!

This year, it felt like the surprise was figuring out the brand and their angle – I’m still scratching my head at the relation between a Nissan Maxima and an absentee father. (By the way, there’s a debate online as to whether this was a positive or negative commercial – to me, if it was meant to be positive, I think they should have rethought the choice of sound track.).

Fewer Hashtags.

Overall, I noticed fewer hashtags for commercial campaigns than the last few years. My speculation as to why resides in that fewer of the campaigns were made especially for the Super Bowl AND had less entertainment factor (versus the Public Service Announcement aka PSA feeling) and therefore less engagement. Generally, I found it an interesting observation and am curious as to how we’ll see this play out – do advertisers feel they don’t need to add them any longer? However, some of my favorite campaigns did have hashtags: #BestBuds#Sorta#500X#TheBigRace.

New Push for Mobile Game Apps – Paired Up With Celebrities.

One of the few topical areas that felt to me like we were moving forward and not backward with our advertising. Mobile is a growing part of all of our lives, and gaming is certainly part of that. Pairing celebrities with enhanced graphics vividly bringing the games to life made sense to me, especially for this fun-seeking audience.

Squarespace and Wix Went Head to Head.

These ads took a few more steps toward our future, as we evolve from advertising just hosting companies to the design-your-own-website platforms - as we as a nation become ever more digitally sophisticated. I thought both were clever and well done, if not earth-shattering.

Television and Movies Made a Big Push.

This was telling to me, it was further proof of our segmented and multi-device viewing trends. It was estimated that 110 million Americans tuned in to watch the Super Bowl, so this was network TV’s opportunity to showcase their latest series to an audience that consumes content in very different ways than in the past; asynchronously, binge-watching, streaming, multi-device, and without commercials. I was surprised to see so many ads for entertainment, and yet it makes perfect sense given the consumption trends for the industry.

Lots of Car Commercials.

There are always automotive commercials in the Super Bowl, but this year it seemed like more than usual. And the mood of the auto ads were all over the place. You already know my favorites if you’re familiar with the hashtags above, Fiat and Mercedes; they were clever and well-produced. The Chevy commercial was also a standout for innovative attention-getting in tricking Super Bowl fans into thinking their TVs cable or satellite just went out – very clever way to promote their Wi-Fi enabled truck! I thought Dodge’s #DodgeWisdom was a great balance of authenticity and fun – it felt real, connected both to the brand and the audience, but wasn’t a downer the way some of the commercials were.

Nissan, I think was a big miss in execution, though I can see their good intentions directionally. The Jeep ad was trying to promote environmental responsibility, but for me just struck the wrong tone for the day (somber again). Apparently, it is sparking this years’ debate about national pride given the historically American song paired with international images – we’ll see how this plays out over the next few days.

I’m hoping that the sheer number of auto commercials is representative of stabilization in the national economy, as people begin to think of replacing those that they’ve made do with during the down turn.

…and the Super Bowl Wouldn’t Be Complete Without Some Snacks!

The Doritos ads were irreverent and fun – perfect for the Super Bowl. Doritos had run a "Crash the Super Bowl" contest to crowdsource the best ads for their placements. I love this concept – this is true fan engagement, especially leveraging social leading up to the big event! The winner won $1 million and a dream job at Universal Pictures. Mars delivered two spots for Snickers and Skittles; Snickers was great, Skittles was on-brand silliness that was just OK for me. Mars created a clever teaser campaigns leading up to the Super Bowl:

Snickers said it would release the ad early if its teaser generated "2.5 million social media engagements," which could include views, likes, comments and shares on Youtube, Facebook or Twitter.
The brand, which debuted the full spot on NBC's "Today" show on Thursday, told Ad Age that that final results are still in being tallied but the teaser had accumulated more than 2.7 million views on YouTube alone.
- Watch Snickers' 'Brady Bunch'-Themed Super Bowl Ad, Ad Age

So despite a lackluster commercial lineup this year, I found the trends fascinating to observe.

  • Brands are struggling to engage with their audiences authentically and appropriately at the same time, but some are starting to get it right.
  • Social and mobile continue to push forward in their presence in our lives, and smart brands are finding ways to leverage them in their effort to engage us as consumers.
  • Our world is becoming more digital – yes, we know this because this is the world we live in as marketing professionals, but hosting and Web design platforms now have a viable market across the majority of middle America firmly rooting themselves into our (national) new normal.
  • Changing entertainment consumption patterns are impacting how the entertainment industry showcases and promotes new franchises.
  • And hopefully, we’re starting to get on more stable economic footing across the country.

More Interested in the Game Than the Ads?

See the Super Bowl game stats that tell the story behind the story. As fantasy sports have grown from a niche pastime into a multi-billion dollar industry, sports fans have gotten even more obsessed with statistics.
IBM's Watson Analytics, a new cloud-based platform that finds patterns in data and uses that information to make predictions about the future – giving fans access to similar tools that executives of pro sports teams consult to understand, say, how many yards Marshawn Lynch averages after first contact, or in which situations Tom Brady is most likely to throw to Rob Gronkowski.
- How IBM is bringing front-office data analysis to Super Bowl fans, Business Insider

The Future is Now

Published in ClickZ on September 4, 2014.

Recent partnerships between unlikely brands are an indication that the prediction that consumers will shape how businesses are run has come to fruition.

One of the fascinating things about my role in market strategy is the frequency in which I delve into research of upcoming trends and major transformations. We all know that technology is being adopted and changing at an exponential rate, but it really struck me a few weeks ago when I heard one of the Apple vice presidents speak to a large group of IBMers about the Apple/IBM partnership recently announced.

What struck me specifically was that the prediction that technologically empowered consumers will shape how businesses are run, down to the fundamental business models - and that it would cause some unlikely partnerships and "co-opetition"/frenemy-type relationships - had just come true on a major, global scale. Of course, the legacy contentiousness between these two iconic brands is decades behind us, especially with IBM having moved out of the personal computer business, and the partnership offers huge advantages for both sides - yet it is still a historic moment.

Recently we saw some other interesting partnerships announced, with Uber, the market-disrupting, sharing-economy-model car service, partnering with both traditional and non-traditional partners: United Airlines, Hyatt Hotels, Starbucks, and Yelp. For me the fascinating partnerships are with United and Hyatt. Uber shares a business model close to that of Airbnb, which is competing with major hoteliers, and while I don't know of any pilots offering ride-shares yet, it might not be that far off, so it's interesting to me to see these major brands affiliate through a partnership of this type. However, I think it's the type of out-of-the-box thinking that traditional brands are going to need in order to keep up with the demands of their customers, because in business we are running to keep up with the pace of change that our customers are expecting.

So what's fueling these partnerships? Empowered consumers with the knowledge of the world in their pockets who can force organizations to operate in an ever-more transparent fashion, and expect immediate responsiveness. Customers are expecting seamless experiences. And these expectations of seamless experiences go beyond the boundaries of a business' purview. We see the need for organizations to partner to create engagement ecosystems with companies that may provide a service that somehow relates - and sometimes doesn't - to their own customer value proposition.

I think of integrations like Zillow and other real estate apps integrating with services like Yelp so that prospective home buyers can see the number, type, and ratings of restaurants in the neighborhood around a home that they're looking at. Partnerships and integrations like this are fairly intuitive. But what about less intuitive partnerships? Think about Citi's partnership with LinkedIn. Citi recognized that women were the "CFOs" of their home finances, so they wanted to engage them with meaningful content and a sense of community. What that led to were requests for career support, and the partnership with LinkedIn was created. This was an innovative way to engage with a key audience even in a way that isn't directly tied to the organizations business proposition, and it has boosted their brand affinity.

These partnerships are just another visible trend of the impact of the major global shift being caused by technology advances and adoption that Gartner calls the nexus of forces. The shift of power from an organization to the customer is impacting many changes across the globe, from how we communicate to how we learn and work. It is captivating to me to see some of these trends and predictions that research has been pointing to for years come to fruition on the global stage.

So how can you prepare to keep up with the future? On the surface it's quite simple - think through your customer experience. In practice it's a more challenging. In order to engage with their customers, organizations are thinking through the entire customer experience, well beyond just the interaction with their own organization. They are devising sophisticated engagement strategies to define that customer journey, profile them appropriately, and pass relevant data to their partners and their systems. We'll see more flexible and integrated platforms to support this data sharing between partners - for us, as marketers, we'll see further increases in API-integration between data sources so that we are able to further hone our objective of truly personalized offerings and campaigns.

Over the next few years, with business models truly being impacted by the empowered customer, the access to data, the ubiquity of connectedness, and ever-increasing expectations, we'll continue to see these market disruptions impact business models and how companies operate, partner, and compete.

And this is just a look at one of the many impacts these changes will wrought. The future is now, and I can't wait to see what will happen next!