What Small Business Can Learn from Super Bowl Ads

You may not have the $3.7 million to buy a 30 second Super Bowl ad for your business, but there’s a lot we can learn from all the money that’s spent airing–and analyzing–these ads.  Super Bowl ads are always entertaining to watch, but are they effective at selling products?  New research from Harvard Business School shows how to balance getting laughs with educating about the product.

Optimizing the Education vs. Entertainment Tradeoff

A lot of Super Bowl ads are really funny, but I can’t remember what product they were trying to sell.  How effective is that?  On the other hand, a lot of small business marketing is very fact-based and informative.  But sometimes our prospects fall asleep while we’re describing our product or service.  Also not ideal.

So what’s the right balance between education and entertainment?

The Harvard researchers used webcams to measure facial movements as people watched Super Bowl ads.  Based on the movement of the eyes, cheeks, and mouth, they determined how amused the viewers were.  Did they smile, grin, or break out in laughter?  The viewers then rated how likely they were to buy the advertised product.

The research shows that, as the amount of entertainment increases, the viewers become more interested in watching the ad.  However, after a certain amount, the persuasiveness starts to wear off–because the viewer loses the link to the brand being sold.  So too much entertainment reduces the likeliness of making a sale.

The results of three different Pepsi MAX ads were typical of this trend:

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[image title=”Pepsi MAX Ad Success, from Professor Thales Teixeira https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7187.html” caption=”Click to Enlarge”]https://ehadvising.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/pepsimax.png[/image]

Lessons for Small Business

While Super Bowl ads often fall too far to the “entertaining” side of the spectrum, too many small businesses live entirely on the “educational” side.  We’re giving lots of info about our products and services, and more info, and more.  And our prospective customers are bored, and they’re less likely to buy.

The good news is, you don’t need dancing bears or talking babies!  Those would be overkill, and ineffective.  What you need is to find ways to infuse life into your marketing!  Make your message fun and exciting and inviting.  Not sure how?  Unless you’re running a funeral home, there’s a way.

Here are some ideas.  What might work for your business?  What works for your personality?  The most successful entertainment authentically reflects the personalities of the people in the business.


Business Excitement Generator
Web Developer In your elevator pitch, make fun of your own HTML nerdiness. This adds levity to a very technical service.
Pet Store In your e-newsletter, add a funny YouTube video showing dogs doing tricks.
Fashion Clothing In your product catalog or e-store, instead of photographing against a white background, show models in fun places.
Tax Accountant In your brochure, include a Far Side cartoon making a joke about taxes.



Action Plan

Brainstorm for 5 minutes about the personality of your business, and how to make your marketing materials more entertaining.  How can you add fun in order to draw customers in?  Just don’t go overboard…talking babies don’t sell. 😉

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