Lessons that Super Bowl Commercials Can Teach about Email Marketing

When it comes to advertising, there’s literally no bigger event than the Super Bowl. In 2018, the average cost of a commercial spot was $5 million according to a report from Kantar Media. In total of that year, nearly $419 million was spent simply buying ad time during the nation’s premier sports and entertainment event. The Super Bowl ad has become so famous and familiar that it’s more recognizably American than baseball and apple pie.

While Super Bowl ads and email marketing can seem worlds apart, there are actually some similarities that make it worthwhile to compare the two. Like Super Bowl advertisers, email marketers have only one shot to resonate with their intended audience. While you don’t need to spend $5 million to get that shot, the energy and resources devoted to creating a subscriber list and crafting a savvy email campaign are still significant. So what lessons can you learn from these mega ads that will help when it’s time to kick off the next big email marketing campaign? Quite a bit, actually.

Lesson #1: Don’t Waste Your Audience’s Time

When it comes to a Super Bowl ad, time is exceedingly precious and attention is at its highest. So squandering that time on a commercial that doesn’t connect with people or doesn’t effectively get your point across is a colossal waste. Such was the case of an ad for Lifeminders.com—a now-defunct firm that specialized in direct online marketing. Their ad leaned into the idea of it being “The Worst Commercial in the Super Bowl” and while it did generate plenty of buzz at the time, most didn’t enjoy the joke and the company got mixed reviews at best. Worse still was that Lifeminders.com failed to make a cohesive point about the services that they offered so even those who enjoyed the comedy of the ad didn’t really learn anything about the company.

These lessons hold very true for email marketing. This ad came across as an ad for the sake of having a Super Bowl ad without a clear vision of what the company wanted to accomplish with it. For every email you send, make sure it has an objective so that those you are sending it to can take action. If you’re just sending an email to send it and remind recipients of your brand without any larger purpose, then you’ll be wasting their time.

Lesson #2: Surprise Audiences and Utilize Humor

There’s no question that comedy is a big part of many Super Bowl ads. From the office monkeys of Career Builder to the bone-crunching hits of Reebok’s Terry Tate: Office Linebacker, using humor is a clear-cut way for advertisers to get the attention of easily-distracted audiences. Similarly, the surprise of say, a “typical Super Bowl car ad” quickly become an ad for laundry detergent Tide went far to entertain viewers who were along for the fun.

When it comes to your emails, using a clever turn-of-phrase in the subject line can go a long way in getting recipients to open your message and read through. While you’ll likely want to avoid going all-out on cracking too many jokes in your email messages, the right amount of levity can be very useful in getting your message across. The same goes for surprising your audience: give them something in their email subject line they aren’t used to seeing and you’ll be able to grab their attention and turn it towards your product or service.

Lesson #3: Have an Impact

Imprinting the message of your company onto an audience is a challenging task, but if you’re successful there is no question it can positively impact your business. Such was the case for the famous Monster.com ad—“When I Grow Up”—that showed children dreaming of a way-too-real future of “getting paid less for the same job” or “being underappreciated.” The ad was named “Ad of the Year” and helped Monster.com get 1 million more unique web visitors a month. The same goes for the impactful “Imported from Detroit” ad by Chrysler, which has racked up 18 million YouTube views since debuting in 2011 and was generally considered to be a huge hit for the then-struggling car company.

When it comes to your emails, consider your targeted audience and what messages you can get across to them that may stir their souls—or at the very least pique their interest. Think of what may have brought your subscriber into the fold in the first place: what were they looking for when they first opted in to your emails? Get to the core of what they want and you’ll have a better chance of making a significant impact.  

Lesson #4: Be Memorable

Whether you are embarking on an email marketing campaign or sinking millions into a Super Bowl ad, the number one goal is to be memorable among a crowded field. Some ads that have stayed the test of time come—unsurprisingly—from some of the biggest brands with historic recognition. “The Showdown” between Michael Jordan and Larry Bird has had people citing “nothing but net” to get a Big Mac for years. Coke’s “Mean Joe Greene” ad came to define the very nature of what a Super Bowl ad could be—sweet, surprising, and unflinchingly on-brand.

With every email campaign you embark on, it is worth it to try to stick out in the recipient’s memory. While it is unlikely a customer will ever remember one specific email, they can come to recall your brand with the same positive recognition as millions do with Coca-Cola and McDonalds. If you continually provide your subscribers with emails that inform, entertain, and generally provide them with value, then your email marketing is doing its job just as well as the most successful Super Bowl ads.

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