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Super Bowl

How Brands Can Avoid Super Bowl-Induced Temporary Insanity

By Published on .

Credit: Illustration by Ad Age, Composite images istock

Once a year, dozens of marketers completely lose their minds.

It's called the Super Bowl. For medical purposes, let's call it SBITI (Super Bowl-Induced Temporary Insanity) syndrome.

Though the outbreak usually peaks the first weekend in February, symptoms start appearing as early as the previous July or August when ostensibly normal marketers abandon their fundamental marketing communication practices and start displaying some pretty funky and aberrant behavior.

SBITI usually starts off, normally enough, with a brief. But once everyone sees the words "Super Bowl," the manic glint and thousand-yard stare of panicked creatives start clouding judgement and spurring spasms of magical thinking. Marketing basics are chucked out the window and proven tactics are kicked to the curb. Is it the pressure? The money? The visibility? Yes, all of that. But at the root is one simple dynamic.

For this one event, this one time of year, people willingly watch advertising. They look forward to it. And we don't know how to deal with that.

For some reason this induces marketing hysteria. Visions of celebrities, delusions of comedy and hallucinations of pyro-techniques flood the minds of otherwise rational professionals. Worse, these visions are often not tied or connected in any memorable way to their brand, irrational exuberance clouding otherwise solid marketing practices. Gimmicks, pop songs, bad physical comedy and irrelevant endorsements become the accepted norm and not the advertising malpractice they really, and normally, are.

Examples are plentiful. Just go back a year. Bud Light brought back Spuds MacKenzie. As a ghost. Who? What? Why? Or Febreze providing America with a "bathroom break". Um, no thanks. Or John Malkovich, being John Malkovich for, um, I forgot. Do you remember any of these? Me neither. These spots didn't work during the Super Bowl and certainly didn't have a life afterwards. They abandoned why people actually buy their products, tried to act "like a Super Bowl commercial" and failed on both counts. I don't single these out for public shaming, they are just classic cases of SBITI.

Look, making a successful Super Bowl spot isn't easy. One year, when I was the Creative Director on Bud Light, we presented over 200 scripts to the brewery, then shot thirty spots to get to the five that actually aired on the night of the big game. Not an approach that everybody can replicate. But it doesn't have to drive you crazy.

First, go back to some advertising fundamentals. Figure out what the core, elemental benefit is that is distinct to your brand. And then find a distinct and memorable way to express that benefit. Google did it with "Parisian Love Story." Chrysler did it with "Imported from Detroit." And Budweiser does it every year with the Clydesdales.

These ads make you feel. They make you think. And they inspire you to do. Feel. Think. Do. That's what a good ad does—regardless of the Super Bowl or not. Do that and people will respond positively to your spot no matter when or where it runs. Yes, it's a special event. Yes, the pressure is on. But no, you shouldn't let the temporary insanity of the Super Bowl make you abandon what's right for your brand. The sane thing is to nail the distinct essence of your brand in an interesting way without falling in the trap of trying to make "a Super Bowl commercial."

Anybody can temporarily lose their marketing mind. It's not something to be ashamed of. What's important is to take a deep breath, do what you're good at doing, and then perhaps you create something that multiplies a five-million-dollar investment into a timeless and invaluable asset.

Now wait, did I just hear something about Budweiser abandoning the Clydesdales?

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