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Q&A: Advertising Expert Robin Landa on the Super Bowl, Branding and ‘Buzz’

Distinguished Professor Robin Landa teaches advertising and graphic design at Kean University’s Michael Graves College. She is currently at work on her 24th book on advertising and design. Landa responded to questions from Kean News, via email, about Super Bowl advertising and other topics.

Q: Super Bowl ads have become a phenomenon. In brief, how did Super Bowl advertising become such a can’t-miss TV event?

The Super Bowl is an iconic, cultural and social event. It's a time when people gather together around the television with friends and family in their homes, in restaurants and bars, and on social media platforms.

Advertisers tap into people's interests linked to this singular event, attracting their attention using a variety of game-related video content as well as social media content.

With approximately 100 million viewers tuning in, the Super Bowl delivers an audience eight times larger than any other TV event.

Q: What benefits do companies expect to get from Super Bowl ads, and how do you measure Super Bowl ad effectiveness?

Advertising informs, persuades, raises awareness or motivates. Mainly using entertainment value, advertisers craft Super Bowl spots to connect with people on an emotional level, imprinting on and endearing brands, companies or individuals, such as political candidates, to viewers.

Super Bowl commercials generally measure high in terms of likeability, brand reputation and entertainment value. Generally, the commercials change people's attitudes about brands rather than immediately calling people to a short-term action, for example, a purchase.

Q: What makes a Super Bowl ad worth the money?

The cost for a 30-second national spot during this year's Super Bowl, aired any time between the coin toss and end of play, is hitting $5.6 million. That's just airtime, that does not include the cost of creation and talent.

What makes it worth all that money is that people look forward to seeing the Super Bowl spots, as opposed to avoiding ads as many people do during regular programming. This is a singular national event with an audience welcoming advertising into their homes and on their smartphones.

Discussion among friends on social media; talk about favorite spots at the water cooler; sharing favorites on multi-platforms — in a fractured, micro-targeted media landscape, when 100 million people are watching the same event, advertising affords a rare common experience.

A popular Super Bowl spot can affect brands throughout the year, yielding positive buzz, reviews and recommendations.

Q: Who are advertisers aiming at?

The majority of advertisers aim their messages at the coveted target audience of millennials (18 to 34). This is a rare opportunity to reach that audience segment, a group who doesn't usually watch television programming and prefers to watch videos on YouTube and TikTok or stream programming on smaller screens, such as on their mobile devices or computers.

Q: How has social media changed the "playing field," so to speak?

People expect to be entertained by Super Bowl commercials. In fact, people are so eager to see the new commercials that they're seeking out the ads in advance of the game. They head to YouTube to see the ads as soon as the advertisers release teasers and full spots in advance of the game.

Many Super Bowl spots are part of multi-channel campaigns. People watch TV with a smartphone on hand. Advertisers can tap into consumers’ interests and passions by leveraging targeted unique content with planned and real-time marketing on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Advertisers also have command-center teams at the ready on social platforms to create and respond to current events in real time. For example, a sudden blackout in the football stadium during the 2013 Super Bowl became the catalyst for a benchmark tweet from the Oreo team: “You can still dunk in the dark.”

Q: What are some of the most successful or landmark Super Bowl commercials?  What makes them the best?  

Expert storytelling, relevant entertaining ideas, emotional branding, and insights into the target audience make ads memorable and popular. Many pundits have their lists. I'll begin my picks with two of my favorite Super Bowl spots that Kean University Michael Graves College alumni worked on:

Q:  Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg and President Trump each bought advertising during the Super Bowl — reportedly spending about $10 million each. Is this unusual? Will they get the return on investment they want?

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's primary campaign is atypical — avoiding the early voting states and instead employing a national strategy. Therefore, purchasing airtime during the biggest televised nationwide event makes sense.

Most presidential primary candidates can't afford advertising during the Super Bowl. Mr. Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire, is using his own money to fund his campaign. His advertising strategy has helped voters become aware of his positions, and he has climbed in the polls.

Whether the candidates get a return on their investments largely depends upon the quality of the spots and whether the ads are based on insights into voters. The intention to advertise during the Super Bowl already has created buzz.

Q:  Does this mean we can expect one of the most high­ spending presidential advertising campaigns in history?

Yes. Two billionaires running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Tom Steyer and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, are spending many millions of their own money to advertise. We've never seen primary spending like this before.

Incumbent Donald Trump's re-election campaign also is spending a great deal of advertising dollars.

Q: Let's talk about branding. It seems everyone wants to promote their brand. How important is it?

Whether for an individual, an organization, a cause, or a product or service, branding identifies and differentiates.

Can you think of a toothpaste brand that offers a unique benefit? Most brands in a price category possess equivalent characteristics. Called parity products, they offer qualities and functions similar or identical to those of their competitors. Branding — name, identity design, package design, digital design presence, etc. —  and advertising bring the brand story to life, acting to differentiate these parity products, services and entities in a crowded marketplace.

In my book, Build Your Own Brand (Simon & Schuster), I explain how to create a personal brand and its importance in a global economy. From the design and content of your CV to your posts and avatars on social media, everything reflects who you are and what you represent.

Q: In a nutshell, what's the most effective way to create and cultivate a brand?

Branding should be identifiable, memorable, distinctive and flexible.

A good story turns a product or service into a brand, into something we instantly recognize and trust. Part of what goes into creating that core brand story is forming an authentic global construct about what the brand represents, which becomes the basis for a broader narrative.

By staking a claim, the brand “owns” a construct in relation to the competition, often successfully, because the competition is unlikely to make the same claim. For example, Volvo owns the construct of safety. BMW owns the construct of German engineering. We can think of a brand construct as providing an armature for its story, which helps focus strategy to form a unique, differentiating, ownable brand position intended to persuade people to think of it in a particular way.

A brand is a promise. People expect authenticity and want to trust, so you must deliver on your brand promise.

Q: Should we expect an increase in "influencersserving as outlets for advertisers or is their role diminishing?

As social media continues to dominate, influencers will continue to have platforms. Essentially, influencers are individual startups, entrepreneurs who sell themselves and their taste. Tools and technology available to all of us with a smartphone and internet connection have made creation and audience reach very democratic.

Q: What trends in advertising and marketing do you see for the new decade?

Technology will continue to change the advertising ecosystem and landscape as advertisers and creative professionals embrace new avenues of visual expression. More agencies and advertisers are exploring Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Gestural interfaces, which do not require the user to touch or handle a device, and smart wearable technology will become more commonplace.

Experiential marketing will continue growing. People expect and want interesting brand experiences. For example, there is the Fearless Girl, created by McCann to honor International Women's Day for State Street Global Advisors in 2017. Fearless Girl is a statue of a girl facing down the iconic bull statue on Wall Street, which became a global phenomenon within 24 hours.

I advocate social marketing to my students and in my book, Advertising by Design, 3rd ed. (Wiley, 2016). Many companies are beginning to see the value in creating advertising that does some social good.