Lessons from the Best Superbowl Spots.

This year’s Superbowl served up dazzling first half dominance by the Falcons, an electrifying comeback by the Patriots, the first overtime in Superbowl history, an exciting halftime performance by Lady Gaga…and perhaps the most lackluster batch of commercials ever.  So this week, a handful of lessons from some of the best big game spots of all time.  (And through the magic of the interwebs, you can watch all of the spots mentioned here at your leisure.)

The Force Awakens.
Volkswagen’s 2011 spot featuring a diminutive Darth Vader managed, without a word, to melt hearts while making the point that the Passat could be started remotely.  It’s a perfect example of how story trumps everything.  And VW confounded conventional wisdom, releasing a 60-second version online the Thursday before the game.  (Remember, this was 2011.)  By kickoff on Sunday, it had been seen by 17 million people online — a total that has since surpassed 61 million.  So what’s your story?  Tell it well…then share it online and amplify your exposure.

There had never been a TV spot like the one Apple ran — one time only — to announce the Mac.  Directed by Ridley Scott (who went on to helm hit films like Alien and Gladiator), it looked like nothing else on television.  It also never showed the product -— and only mentioned it at the end.  But it left millions wondering.  And that’s the point.  If you can arouse people’s curiosity and leave them in suspense, you create an itch that needs to be scratched.  That’s even more valuable now that you can end the suspense online.

Plowing a Deep Furrow.
In 2013, in a spot that ran two minutes, all viewers heard was the late Paul Harvey offering his moving tribute to the American farmer over a series of gorgeous, grimy still images of real farmers wrestling a living from the earth.  Every so often, one of the photos included a Dodge Ram pickup.  Only the end title showed the automaker’s logo and slogan.  The response was overwhelming.  A couple of ideas leap out.  First, don’t be constrained by the “norms” of any media…bend or break them when it suits your message.  Second, let emotion do the heavy lifting, and people will gravitate to the brand.

Grow Up.
In 1999, the job-posting website Monster.com flipped the message, showing a montage of melancholy minors throwing their aspirations under the bus of reality (“I want to claw my way up to middle management.”  “I want to be a ‘yes’ man.”).  If you were dissatisfied with your job, the spot increased that feeling to a painful level in 30 seconds.  The next day, the site had 300 times as many hits as usual, and its unique annual visitors nearly doubled.  Pretty good ROI.  So try showing the opposite of the benefit you provide — show the situation your prospect needs to escape.