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Winning and Branding with a Purpose at Super Bowl LIII

“Everybody counted us out…but we’re still here,” Bill Belichick told CBS after winning his sixth ring as head coach of the New England Patriots.

It’s true that when tracking the most basic metrics in sports – age of key starters, previous championships – the numbers stack up against future triumph.

But was last night’s outcome as surprising as, for instance, last year’s Eagles victory? Safe to say, Coach Belichick’s account doesn’t tell the whole story. His positioning of the Patriots – one of sport’s great dynasties – as underdogs at Super Bowl LIII made for pretty good marketing. Given the disparity in experience and regular season performance between the two teams, as well as the high-scoring overtime pyrotechnics of the conference championships two weeks prior, the biggest surprise out of Atlanta was the lack of scoring. Like ordering a beverage from game sponsor Pepsi, for Brady, Belichick, MVP Julian Edelman and fans, the win was, of course, “more than OK.” But the ice-cold offense brought to mind the polar bears associated with Atlanta-based Coca Cola.

So besides the Patriots and title town New Englanders, who else was a winner this weekend?

According to Chris Weil, CEO of Momentum Worldwide: Atlanta. “On site, the big winner, as much as anybody, was the city of Atlanta,” he stated. “They did a great job hosting the game and got a huge break with the weather.” From a practical standpoint, Hyundai also came out a winner by sponsoring car service so that everybody could get to the other important sponsored activations.

Weil also praised brands that didn’t engage directly with the event, such as Skittles and Uber. For those brands that did invest the big money in TV spots, he expected them to “use it as a platform” the way that high-rolling firm Expensify did, adding a sweepstakes and pre-game buzz to their Big Game commercial starring 2 Chainz and actor Adam Scott.

Momentum worked on activations by Verizon, so Weil was sympathetic to the meaningful approach brands take in efforts like Verizon’s first responders campaign. Overall, Weil said, “the advertising was almost as boring as the game last night. There was a gratuitous use of celebrities for no good reason.” The criticism wasn’t just reserved for real-life celebrities. Weil said he wished fictional characters Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and The Dude (Jeff Bridges) would just “stay where they are” (Sex and the City, The Big Lebowski respectively).

In the pre-Super Bowl buzz, marketers (like DXagency partner Benjamin Hordell) wondered how cause-oriented this year’s messages would be, along the lines of the headline-grabbing Gillette ad from ages ago (actually, it was just a couple weeks ago).

Sprinklr analyzed the activity around “purpose-driven” campaigns, and found that Bumble was behind one of the night’s most re-Tweeted GIFs, featuring Serena Williams. In their assessment, Microsoft’s spot showing how videogames can empower physically-challenged young people was a favorite, against other purposeful spots, garnering eight times as many mentions as the second-place Verizon ad, and 6,180 retweets, more than Verizon, Google, Budweiser and Bumble combined.

Perhaps Twitter isn’t the natural place for meaningful discussions inspired by purpose-driven ads. The Sprinklr report notes that non-purpose-driven ads dominated Twitter, landing 41,495 mentions, vs. 12,518 mentions for the adamantly purposeful. However, 87.6 percent of Tweets about purpose-driven ads were positive, vs. 74 percent for non-purpose-driven ads.

The most talked-about non-purpose brand message, according to Sprinklr, came from Bud Light’s humorous spots reminding consumers that they don’t use corn syrup in their beer. Chris Weil applauded the brand for this leveraging of a Super Bowl spend “into a new ingredients campaign” and with the reference to corn syrup representing an indirect “shot at competitors while having a little fun.” Burger King also had more than a little fun including footage of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger in their ad. Or was there a purpose?

Data findings from the Salesforce Marketing Cloud gives Bud Light high marks. The top five ads, by mentions were Bud Light (19,070 mentions), Pepsi (15,876), Mercedes Benz (11,887), Doritos (9,856) and Avocados from Mexico (8,887). Salesforce also found #avocadosfrommexico to be the top non-Super Bowl hashtag from last night, the top two being #sbliii and #superbowl. And even though it might have been awkward to have such a prominent Pepsi sponsorship in Coca Cola’s back yard, Pepsi ranked as the top logo, even higher than the New England Patriots.

Another winner on the digital front, according to Merkle’s annual report, which surveys all major channels, including social, paid search, SEO and digital media, was Olay. Avocados from Mexico came in second, and was last year’s first-place finisher. As a first-time Super Bowl advertiser, Olay drafted Sarah Michelle Gellar to star in a female-focused, funny and nostalgic ad. In the mix with such traditionally male-centric categories as beer, beer, and more beer (Stella Artois finished fourth, Budweiser sixth), the Olay campaign tapped into what other female-oriented brands also suspected, that women are paying considered, purposeful attention to the Big Game. As Sprinklr’s analysis shows, 52.85 percent of Tweets about purpose-driven ads were from women on Twitter.

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