Super Bowl Ads Make a Play for Brand Purpose

Amon Rappaport // Feb 5 // Insights

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For brand types like me, the worst part of Sunday’s Super Bowl was the disappointing TV commercials. Not only did they fail to impress, they lacked the kind of Brand Purpose we’ve seen in recent years.

What’s Brand Purpose? Making a Better World

When your brand promise is about making the world better, it’s called Brand Purpose. Chipotle is a great example of a company that infuses its “Food With Integrity” purpose into its brand. The company kicked off its foray into Super Bowl advertising in 2012 with a memorable 2-minute spot, featuring a Willie Nelson/Coldplay soundtrack, which espouses an end to factory farming and a return to sustainable food production.

Even Chrysler has gone the distance to build its cars and its brand with a heavy dose of American pride and resilience, as evidenced by the carmaker’s Super Bowl ads in 2011 (with Eminem), 2012 (with Clint Eastwood), and this year (with Bob Dylan). Most notably, the company scored a win in 2013 with a moving, Dodge-branded tribute to the American farmer, which AdWeek named the #2 best ad of the year.

But Super Bowl ads alone don’t deliver Brand Purpose. They just reinforce the commitment these companies are making every day to do business in line with their purpose. Brand Purpose is the way Chipotle makes every natural, sustainable burrito, and the way Chrysler makes its high-quality American cars. 

A Cause is Not Brand Purpose

Sadly, few of the 2014 Super Bowl ads made a play for Brand Purpose. Instead, they settled for cause marketing. That’s when a company says “we care” by attaching their brand to an issue, or another “cause” brand.

Several of this year’s Super Bowl spots took this approach:

  • Bank of America/U2 (RED) fighting AIDS globally;
  • Budweiser’s “Hero’s Welcome” saluting soldiers;
  • Chevrolet’s “Life” supporting the American Cancer Society and cancer survivors;
  • Coke’s “America is Beautiful” celebrating multi-cultural America; and
  • Axe’s “Kiss for Peace” going for the laudable but vague goal of world peace.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m in favor of brands supporting causes, and the approach can work for both the brand and the cause. The ads above all made one or more of the “best Super Bowl ads” lists from Yahoo!, USA Today and even AdWeek. Chevy’s “Life” was trending on Twitter soon after airing, and it has its own social media campaign (as do some of the others) that will presumably give it life far beyond the Big Game. But some of these also made the “worst-of” ad lists, got mixed reactions from consumers and critics, or in the case of Coke, even sparked controversy. (In fairness, not everyone loved Chipotle, Chrysler and Dodge commercials either).

It boils down to this: At the end of the day, let alone the game, I don’t think people will remember these brands and what they stand for in the same was as they do with Chipotle, Chrysler and Dodge.

How to Be a Brand Purpose MVP

Considering the ads from recent Super Bowls, here’s how I suggest brands can score an award for MVP (Most Valuable Purpose):

  1. Declare Your Brand Purpose

    Chipotle and Chrysler are clear and consistent about their purpose, every day. Even though Coke is doing great things to bring clean water to the developing world and increase recycling with help from will.i.am., most people don’t know because it’s hard to pack it all into one clear Brand Purpose.
  2. Expand Your Team

    Even some of the brands that don’t have clear Brand Purpose did at least do a good job inviting people to get involved on the issues. Chevy, Axe and Bank of America all invited consumer participation in their campaigns, which is a great way to build fans—and brands—while supporting your cause.
  3. Go Big or Go Home

    Just like a team that’s down by 35 points in the fourth quarter, you should go long. Take a stand for your Brand Purpose—and then deliver. To win at this game, you need to make a bold commitment for a better world and then follow through, day after day, to drive toward the goal. Chipotle’s got this. High five to Axe for making a big play. Now we’ll see if they can kiss and body spray their way to world peace.

In short: if you want to score a win with your fans and the world, your Brand Purpose should shine through in everything you do. If it doesn’t, you might need a new game plan for your brand.

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