• Katie

Marketing Winners and Losers at Super Bowl 50

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

In addition to being a football championship, the Super Bowl is a parade of advertising’s one-percenters. The oft-touted stat this year is that marketers spent up to $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime. The ads we all watched will be much talked about, and their real impact will be hard to track, as always.

To be clear, I never recommend commercials for start-ups. Videos for a start-up’s own website and social channels? Yes. Commercials designed to be distributed on television? Never.

The problem with TV commercials (and especially something like a spot run during the Super Bowl) is that it’s not about driving sales so much as it’s a brand play. If you’re a new company, you’ll spend a lot of time, money, and creative juice producing a 30-second spot that will make people think, “ Hmm… I think I’ve heard of that somewhere,” instead of “Let’s buy that right now!”

Brand lift is notoriously hard to measure and usually requires an expensive investment in brand surveys. If you’re a start-up that’s super focused on customer acquisition costs, you’re out both the cost of creating and distributing your commercial plus the cost of measuring its impact. I strongly recommend demand gen activities that help test and refine messaging, connect with customers, establish product/market fit, and most importantly, drive revenue.

For more on this topic, please enjoy this slideshow of Super Bowl advertising dot-com era brands that aren’t around today.



Now that PayPal has split from eBay and seems to be in charge of its own future, I think it’s smart to freshen up its image. The new money versus old money theme was fun and reenergizing for an older brand. I also loved the incorporation of a diverse range of people (women and men, a variety of races) into the commercial, which is more representative of the up-and-coming generation (multiracial Americans are growing 3x as fast as the population as a whole).


Clearly, celebs were in high demand this year. Here are all of the celebs I caught throughout the night: Alex Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Daft Punk, Drake, Missy Elliot, Tony Hawk, Anthony Hopkins, Keegan-Michael Key, Dan Marino, Helen Mirren, Marilyn Monroe, Liam Neeson, Jordan Peele, Ryan Reynolds, Seth Rogan, Paul Rudd, Amy Schumer, Jason Schwartzman, Steven Tyler, Christopher Walken, Serena Williams, and Abby Wambach.

Intuit QuickBooks

The golden rule in B2B marketing is that your customers should be the stars of your marketing program. Intuit has a program where they give a Super Bowl commercial to one of their small business customers (and elevate nine other finalists in the process). I love this strategy. It’s refreshing and effective. Everyone loves a good customer story, and this Death Wish Coffee spot is fun.


As usual, animals were a popular trope as well, from the memorable wiener dog stampede for Heinz, a dog driving a car for Subaru, some singing sheep, a talking bald eagle, and a dog named TurboTax. Maybe next year someone will combine celebs and animals for the most winning ad of all time?


Gaming is a hits business, and Pokemon clearly gets the mindset that made people fanatical about their brand. The emphasis on empowerment and imagination was spot on. I can see a whole new generation of kids asking if they can play with nostalgic parents who will be all too happy to indulge them.


Car companies

As of 2012, women had more driver’s licenses than men, and 80% of car-buying decisions were influenced by women. You wouldn’t know it judging by this year’s car commercials.

Car company spots all blended together for me as well. Very few of them managed to stand out from the pack. Here are the exceptions:

Last year, we saw a few car commercials featuring tender moments with dads that showed a different side of masculinity. The only similar note struck this year was Hyundai’s ad aimed at women, which turned the stereotypical man-gawking-at-woman idea around. It featured a world of Ryan Reynoldses: Ryan as a cop, Ryan as a construction worker, Ryan as a cute dude playing football, Ryan as a cute dude walking dogs…Two other notable exceptions: Mini’s “defy labels” ad was fun and on point (what a great example of objection handling!), and Subaru’s golden-retriever-as-parent spot was memorable and lovable. As a person in the market for a new car, I can genuinely say it made me feel warm and fuzzy about the brand.

The American public

. . . because prescription drug commercials should NOT be legal. Every time I see one I cringe.

Bruno Mars

I know he wasn’t in a commercial. I love his music, and I loved the performance, but… are you really going to agree to a show in which you pretend to take on Queen Bey?


Back to the ads: what were your winners and losers of the night?

#startups #advertising

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