Women, Branding and The Super Bowl

By Holly Buchanan

Can you measure ROI on an ad?   How many people will remember the ad?  How many will remember which product was advertised?  How many will remember the ad, what product was advertised, and have a strong enough reaction to actually purchase or at least consider purchasing the product?

These are questions we all ask, especially after the Super Bowl.  Now that the game is long over, I’ve been listening to see which ads women are still talking about.  There’s exactly one- the Volkswagen Darth Vader commercial.   Tony Fannin thought it was one of the better commercials.  Yet  Bob Garfield at Ad Age questioned the effectiveness of the Volkswagen Darth Vader ad, which not only aired on the Super Bowl, but which went viral with over 10 million online views.  (it now has over 29 million views)

“But if we were VW, we wouldn’t be too triumphal too quickly. Another name for the Relationship Era is the Listenomics Age, and if you listen to what was being said, you’d notice that the vast majority of the Twitter traffic mentions the ad, and not the car. Not even the model — which happens to be a Passat. Certainly nobody mentioned the ad was nominally promoting keyless ignition, and no wonder: that’s all but a generic feature.

So, yeah, VW got some positive attention, and that’s good. But the attention wasn’t on automobiles. That’s bad. This could have just as well been a McDonald’s commercial. Which just goes to show: If you’re peddling entertainment instead of products, cultivating smiles not constituents, the Brave New World will be just as easy to squander resources in as the cowardly old one.”

Here’s the thing – that could be said of almost every single ad aired during the Super Bowl.  I know there were a couple of commercials with cans (soda cans?  Beer cans?) slamming various people in the head and other, ahem, body parts.  There were a bunch of car commercials that looked like video games or action movies.  There was a florist commercial with a guy acting clueless.    I couldn’t tell you who any of those ads were for.

Yet, from the research I did, the VW ad seemed to have made a genuine emotional connection.  It was one of the only commercials not just peddling entertainment.  So why did Bob Garfield call out this particular ad as a failure?  I don’t know.

The Volkswagen ad connected with women

At the Super Bowl party I attended, the Volkswagen ad was one of the few commercials the women laughed at and talked about after the game.  I’ve done informal polling about the car commercials.  Not one woman has been able to tell me who the alien, Neptune One Epic Ride car ad was for. (Kia, in case you couldn’t remember either).  Yet almost every one did remember the Darth Vader ad was for Volkswagen.  I also remembered the brand.  This hit me the next morning when walking my pooches I saw a Volkswagen sitting in the neighbor’s driveway.   I’d never noticed it before.

Which brings me to two important takeaways.

One – the first step to driving sales is to make an emotional connection with the audience.  Will people run out the next day and buy your product?  Ideally, yes.  But a large purpose of branding is to start a relationship, to make an emotional connection, to get on prospective customers’  radar screens.

I went from not noticing VW’s to, now, seeing them everywhere.

Could it be that this commercial especially made an emotional connection with women?  In a sea of commercials targeting men, it clearly stood out.

Two – The emotional connection must be with your brand, not just your commercial.  It’s great if you can make people laugh, but why are they laughing?   Pinging someone in the head with a can may be funny, but does it tie in directly with your brand and product?     “People who buy this soda enjoying pinging people with soda cans.”   Not quite sure how that works.

Compare that with the Volkswagen commercial.  Having a magical, fun moment with your kid resonates with a lot of people (especially women).  It also happens to fit in with Volkswagen’s humanistic, quirky brand.

I think this commenter on Bob Garfield’s article summed it up best:

Let’s all remember that great advertising, and remarkable brand-building should never be about a single execution. Yes – it is important that the execution meet its core objective(s) – create awareness, position or reposition the brand, and/or drive immediate sales. The important thing is how that execution fits into an integrated, sustained campaign that builds bonds with consumers and moves them to choose the brand when they are ready to purchase.

I suspect that no one went out to buy a Chrysler or a VW yesterday after the game, but if the stewards for these brands are wise, they will continue to shape their individual brand messages and personalities consistent with the emotional and practical need of their target audiences.

Judith Ricker, Market Probe

This ties in directly with Tony Fannin’s point about the power of integrated marketing, especially with women.

And look at that last sentence – “If the stewards for these brands are wise, they will continue to shape their individual brand messages and personalities consistent with the emotional and practical need of their target audiences.”

At least part of the super bowl audience (certainly the women) plus, at the time of this writing, 29 million online viewers found something in the commercial that met an emotional need and that was consistent with the Volkswagen brand and personality.  In my book, that’s a win.

Holly Buchanan is the co-author of  The Soccer Mom Myth – Today’s Female Consumer: Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys. You can read more at her blog Marketing to Women Online


About Be Branded

Tony Fannin is of President of BE Branded, an integrated marketing firm who helps clients BE Somebody to their customers. If you aren't somebody, then you are commodity.

4 Responses to “Women, Branding and The Super Bowl”

  1. Just as a follow up, the Super Bowl is now long gone (here it is March) and yet the Volkswagen ad continues to reign supreme at the top of the viral charts, now chocking up more than 45 million views to date.


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