Why this Super Bowl ad was the best

As a former adman, I always relish the yearly Super Bowl showdown in early February, not just for the game itself and all the glutenous overeating that accompanies it, but for the television ads. My favorite one this year will not only surprise you but will also offer you a great lesson about how to promote your hotel with a modern sensibility.

Spending hundreds of thousands on production and millions more on the media buys themselves, these ads are colorful, bombastic and, above all, highly entertaining. Indeed, the Monday after the big game sees many sites offering their thoughts on the best and worst of the annual batch, and in many social circles these advertisements generate far more watercooler fodder than the game itself.

Purposefully scribing this article a tad too late to contribute to the immediacy of any Super Bowl conversation, it is time once more to reflect upon these commercials now that the dust has long settled. What ads do you remember? Which of them (if any) actually resonated so that with a couple-word prompt you could vividly recall the place, narrative, tagline and, hopefully, the product being sold? And more cerebrally, in this age of constant distractions and endless other forms of entertainment, do these advertisements even matter anymore?

The 2019 candidates had what I would deem an oversaturation of celebrity cameos, and this offers a stark lesson for any product, hotel or not, thinking of pursuing a similar tactic.

As with any case when there’s too much of a good thing, that thing doesn’t elicit an emotional response. We’re numb to its effects. So, after seeing the first five ads that banked on a lukewarm concept with a surprise appearance by one or more actors or music artists, the most I could offer was a half-smile and a shrug. Sure, they’re watchable, but I would classify them all as merely one-and-done.

Now more than a month since viewing each, I can’t tell you which Hollywood diva appeared where or any of the brand names they endorsed. Having worked in the agency business – before the hospitality business I worked in packaged goods and am all too familiar with eight-figure marketing budgets – I have a good sense of how this happened.

A company decides that they want to appear during the Super Bowl, then gives its agency a suitable budget to execute. With breakneck timetables, there’s no breathing room to come up with a fireproof idea, so instead, the agency decides to throw the budget at a celebrity, because this tactic has a ‘proven’ track record for successfully garnering eyeballs. But this may no longer be the case.

Instead, my favorite commercial for this year was one by Microsoft describing its special video game controller designed for kids with special needs (watch an extended version of the ad here). 

What would you say about your hotel if you were to produce a similar ad to Microsoft's Super Bowl ad?
What would you say about your hotel if you were to produce a similar ad to Microsoft’s Super Bowl ad?

It’s a simple, feel-good message that follows basic storytelling rules to a tee – introduce the characters, introduce the problem, introduce a solution and everyone wins. No overpaid actors required. Above all, though, it’s honest and it shows that even a multinational corporation as gargantuan as Microsoft cares about each and every one of its customers.

I dare you to watch this ad and not feel at least somewhat appreciative of Microsoft for offering this product. Better still, as a thought experiment, I dare you to think about what you would say about your hotel if you were to produce a similar ad. And in the world of social media, you do not need a multimillion-dollar budget to accomplish this feat.

Would you talk about how you are helping your employees live happier and healthier lives? What local businesses and craftsmen are you supporting to enrich your local community? Are you partnering any neighborhood charities or sponsoring any events? Would you elaborate upon your recent efforts in environmental activities and becoming a local leader in the fight against climate change?

People nowadays care tremendously about what businesses they support with their hard-earned cash. Those companies that aren’t doing enough in the realm of corporate social responsibility will soon be left behind. So, what story are you going to tell?