Human understanding is key to Super Bowl success

By sarah shilling



The Drum Network article

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February 3, 2020 | 5 min read

Having a CEO at Unlimited Group who is not only a world-class marketer – having spent time client-side at the helm of both Beam Suntory and Kellogg’s – but who is also an American, meant whoever didn’t know about the Super Bowl at the start of last week certainly did by Friday. Not only did he educate us about why it’s so important culturally and from a sporting perspective, but also why it’s such a large part of many brands’ marketing armoury.

Superbowl helmet

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen numerous American sports filter into the UK’s stadiums and front rooms with huge impact; the National Football League (NFL), National Baseball League (NBL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) to name a few.

Gathering new fans over here, many Brits opted to forgo sleep last night and were glued to the TV into the early hours of this morning watching the USA’s largest sporting and advertising spectacle, the Super Bowl, play out.

But in Monday morning boardroom meetings, with the backdrop of a digitally led and social-first world, the question is sure to have been raised: who really won in the world’s largest marketing window of the year?

Super Bowl LIV drew in over 100 million American viewers, while thousands of Brits either streamed the game or watched it live through the BBC and Sky Sports’ broadcast. It was the first time the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers came head to head in a Super Bowl, and the first Super Bowl appearance for the Chiefs in 50 years.

The stakes were just as high off the field as they were on it.

Competition and attention

Football fans or not, Super Bowl Sunday is the one day of the year Americans – and fans the world over – come together to sit down in front of the TV and watch ads.

Advertisers go big on budgets year after year to fight for the engagement and attention of the TV millions. Some of the world’s biggest brands came to the party for Super Bowl LIV, with the likes of Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Audi, and Hyundai securing ad spots for as much as US$5.6m - before even taking into consideration production costs.

Thanks to the power of the Internet, Super Bowl ads garner global attention and talkability before, during and after the game. This is great if your creative connects with audiences. However, it also means that the risk of blowing out in the eyes of consumers with communications that simply don’t resonate is immense.

And, each year, we see brands that win and brands that lose in their Super Bowl advertising. Those who lose tend to focus on engaging with audiences, but they forget to connect with them. To truly connect, as marketeers we need to use an insight-led approach; tapping into social and cultural trends, data and neuroscience to understand what motivates and drives audiences to engage.

The Kansas City Chiefs may have come out on top at Hard Rock Stadium but, in my eyes, the real winners are the advertisers that put human understanding at the heart of their communications.

We took a quick poll in the office of which advertisers turned out on top and those that received an overwhelming majority all have one thing in common: human insight has been used to shape the creative.

Unlimited Group’s Super Bowl LIV winners:

Google - Loretta

The overwhelming response from the team was that Google won the Super Bowl. Following up on their successful Parisian Love ad, Google tapped into emotion in this piece of gold to make the audience feel empathetic and connected to both the ad and the brand.

Amazon - #BeforeAlexa

So often marketers think that using emotion stops at sadness. However, humour is just as powerful and, in this case, it’s been used perfectly to create an amusing and memorable ad.

Walmart - Famous Visitors

Walmart successfully tapped into nostalgia in their first Super Bowl ad by including well-known sci-fi characters throughout the creative. A huge marketing trend at present, nostalgia is a phenomenon we often see when there is economic and/or political uncertainty.

Snickers - #SnickersFixTheWorld

Snickers’ #FixTheWorld ad again shows the power of humour in marketing. The result? A fun, tongue-in-cheek piece that resonates with the ‘problems’ the consumers of today are facing.


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UNLIMITED delivers business impact through human understanding. We’re an integrated tech-enabled agency group comprised of TMW, Walnut, Health Unlimited and Nelson...

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