Should Arts Marketers Emulate Superbowl Ads?

Superbowl ads are a lot of fun. I didn’t have a chance to watch them in real time but I’ve been getting a kick out of the post-game analysis to see whose ads were dubbed the best and whose stood the best chance of taking on viral lives beyond their original air dates.

Deciding which ads are good, though, is just ridiculous. The best ads sell the most product and we won’t know how that worked for a long time. In some cases, like Budweiser, we may never know because the product sells in such massive amounts over such a long span of time and in such a multi-layered marketing environment that attaching cause and effect to any given ad is a pretty tall order. Personally, I loved the Budweiser ad, but I also love good beer so it certainly didn’t work on me.

I did discover, though, that Hyundai was enjoying a significant bump in web traffic generated by its ad for the Santa Fe minivan. According to, the Hyundai ad, which is about a boy and his mother gathering up a group of friends to take them to the park, generated a lot more traffic than an emotional Jeep ad that focused on returning troops.

What I appreciated about the Hyundai ad was that it did what good marketing should do. It showed how the product made its customers happy. In this case, it made the boy happy by solving his problem with neighborhood bullies, which was the entertaining, attention-getting part, but on a more fundamental level it showed the mother using the van to meet a practical need that many mothers share. By doing both very well the ad appears to have been very effective.

Compare that to the ad that tied the Jeep brand to patriotic emotions stirred by returning troops (with narration by Oprah, no less) and it’s easy to see why the near-term results were weaker. The subject matter may have been noble, lofty and moving, but the connection between motor vehicles and returning troops was tenuous at best. The commercial didn’t draw a clear enough line between what most people want from a vehicle and how a Jeep might make them happy.

I’ve written in previous posts that the key to motivating new arts audiences lies not in boasting about lofty, abstract promises that aren’t necessarily connected to what your audiences are looking for, but rather by demonstrating how your product will make its customers happy by satisfying their actual needs or desires. These two ads seem to be good examples of these ideas in action.

Arts marketers who want to develop effective marketing messages would do well to stay sharply focused on what their audiences say they want, and on creating messages that connect those stated yearnings to what the product can actually deliver. If the yearnings are about enjoying an evening out with friends and taking in a concert or show, for example, your job is to connect those wants to your product in the clearest possible way. (Hint: you’ll probably want to show some images of your potential customers having a good time in your venue.)

And keep in mind that arts marketing is not the Superbowl. Nobody cares if you’re clever or cute or entertaining. That’s not what you’re there to do. If you want to be memorable or attention-getting, just do what the Hyundai ad did and make sure that your entertainment value is a logical, integral, sensible outgrowth of your core message strategy.

That Hundai ad didn’t make it to the top of many “best” lists on Monday, but if it sells more Santa Fe minivans, who cares?


5 thoughts on “Should Arts Marketers Emulate Superbowl Ads?

  1. While an actual comparison of Super Bowl ads to arts marketing is not simply apples to oranges but apples to elephants, in terms of budget, reach, etc., some companies use the Bowl as a chance to enforce (or change) their brand perception. While arts marketers rarely have the leeway to make their ads anything more than transactional (“Buy now”), there is something to be said for institutional arts marketers finding opportunities to build the qualitative perception of their organization, taking the long view.

    • I’m glad you said that, Howard. You’re absolutely right. But the only advertisers who can afford that sort of meta-level brand burnishing are ones who already have sophisticated sales and marketing infrastructures in place and who have healthy future business prospects. It would be foolish for arts marketers to try to run with those elephants.


        It was one of the most memorable moments in Super Bowl history. When the stadium went dark. Hashtag #blackout blew up on Twitter. And from a virtual pile-up of snarky quips, one company came up with the ball.

        Oreo tweeted: “Power out? No problem.”

        It spread like wildfire. And it cost far less than the actual commercial Oreo ran on television during the game. A cream-filled cookie became the night’s true marketing champion.

        Sam Ford, Director of Digital Strategy with Peppercomm and co-author of Spreadable Media*, suggests in his Fast Company article**, “When it comes to content strategy, it’s better to think about spreadability than stickiness.” Arts organizations would benefit taking notes from this winning playbook.

        Obviously, I agree with Howard about the apples to elephants comparison, but arts organizations must embrace this concept of spreadability. The quicker our messages spread, the better chance we have to grow our audience with limited budgets. This approach is essential when marketing plays, operas, art shows and ballets, which typically have limited runs.

        The elephants may have the money. But at 72,888 followers on Twitter, Oreo has only 44K more than Carnegie Hall, 43K more than Lincoln Center, and 30K more than The Brooklyn Academy of Music. Cirque du Soleil has 508K followers – seven times as many as Oreo! Arts companies have the reach. But we only impact if we’re in the game. As thousands of unknowns before have shown, it just takes one good “Hail Mary” to win the big game.



  2. Hi Trev, Great post, I agree. You know the Jeep spot could have easily tied itself more clearly to the military by showing how they have been used/are used in military settings. You know something like, we supported you there, now we support you back home, but they didn’t, and you’re right they rested too heavily on the emotional appeal and didn’t tie it back with anything really related to the vehicles. I also really liked the Dodge “farmer” ad. Not sure why other than the stunning imagery and the moving voice over. I would never by a Dodge Ram, but then I’m guessing those folks pictured in the ad are. Speaking of beer, I too cried at the Clydesdale ad, but since Petaluma is quickly becoming the craft beer mecca of California, I wouldn’t be caught dead drinking a Bud. You guys need so take a break from renovating and come up for a beer weekend. Hope you’re doing great. Keep up the good work! Kathy

  3. Thanks, Kathy. Nice to know my stuff is cutting academic muster. I’m definitely thinking beer in Petaluma this summer!

    (Note to readers: My cousin Kathy O’Donnell chairs the Marketing Department in the College of Business at San Francisco State University. If you’re a Bay Area arts pro looking for marketing insight, fresh marketing talent or advice on craft brews, she’s someone you may want to know.)

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