The Super Bowl is a huge event, but it’s not just about the football. It is the most-watched event in America (with this year’s Super Bowl XLIX drawing the largest audience in US TV history at 114.4 million viewers), and advertisers are eager to tap into these attentive viewers.
A 30 second ad spot for this year’s Super Bowl cost $ 4 million. Despite the huge audience, many marketers have to ask the question: is it worth the price?
Half of the 56 ads aired during the Super Bowl this year included hashtags . And the flurry of water cooler discussions that took place around these hashtags shows that consumers are not just engaging on one screen anymore – a fact that can help advertisers track their traditional media dollars’ effectiveness.
Advertisers no longer have to wait for a report on the number of viewers their ad reached, using demographic statistics gleaned from a small sample size. Thanks to social media, advertisers can see actual interactions with their ads in real time, directly from individual consumers using their second screens.
By tapping into Twitter and other social media conversations surrounding hashtags aired alongside TV ads, advertisers can gather aggregate demographic data or drill down to the individual level. From basic demographic information like gender, location and age to in-depth psychographic traits, hashtag conversations can shed light on the overall makeup of an audience. Advertisers can also see each and every consumer interacting with their brand, identifying the influencers and the most vocal among them.
Because information pulled from hashtag discussions are real-time, advertisers get a snapshot of what their audience is like right now. They can understand, for instance, what stage of the buyer’s journey the majority of their audience is in – whether they are discussing making a purchase or comparing their product to that of their competitor’s.
Even more robust data is available to advertisers who want the fullest picture of their audience possible. By exploring not only the real-time hashtag conversations but also the past conversations of their audience, brands can identify brand affinity, preferences, and attitude changes over time. This 360 view of a consumer can be extremely helpful in assessing how effective future marketing campaigns will be, and identifying the values of a brand’s audience.
Including a hashtag doesn’t necessarily “unlock” the secret to your audience’s heart, as Nationwide’s #makesafehappen fiasco confirms. It can, however, provide real time data about your audience that can be leveraged for future campaigns – whether those will cost $ 4 million or $ 400 to run.
“Let’s throw the ball here!” Pete Carroll’s, Head Coach of the Seattle Seahawks, now famous directive to his offensive coordinator who in-turn made the play call. The front page of the Seattle Times screamed the next day “The worst call in NFL history cost us the Super Bowl.”
Let’s take a step back for a minute. To set the stage for those who missed the Super Bowl, Seattle was down four points with around two minutes to go. Aided by a miracle catch, they moved to the five-yard line of New England with a little more than a minute to go and had four downs to punch it in.
Easy pickins, especially given that Seattle’s best player that night was their running back, Marshawn Lynch. On first down, Lynch gained four yards. 50 seconds left and now Seattle had three plays to get one yard. If Seattle scored in any of the next three plays, they’d be hoisting the Lombardi trophy.
And then, Pete Carroll and his coordinator made the fateful call to throw the ball instead of run it. Russell Wilson’s, the Seahawk quarterback, throw was intercepted by an unheralded rookie named Malcom Butler, from the Patriots.
Game, set and match—New England.
I am neither a fan of Seattle nor New England, so I wasn’t emotionally stung by the result. But I was taken aback by Pete Carroll’s error in judgment at the most critical moment of his entire season, maybe the most critical moment that some of his players may ever encounter in their careers. He made a very risky call. And it cost them the chance for repeat glory.
I really admire Carroll for being a standout person who immediately took the blame for the result and emphasized that the buck stops with him. These acts exemplify what a great leader he is! However, over the past week he has defended his thinking and I believe that there were three critical flaws at the end that cost his team the game—strategic missteps that we all can learn from and incorporate into our daily lives as marketers and professionals:
1. In Critical Moments, Always Put the Ball in the Hands of Your Best Player
We want the best players on our teams to be involved in the most critical moments. Imagine playing the Chicago Bulls of the 90’s or the Lakers over the past decade. Who’s taking the shot when the game is on the line? You can bet its Jordan and Kobe respectively—the game-changers!
The same thinking applies to our businesses too. Imagine briefing Gartner on a key magic quadrant discussion or delivering a keynote presentation at a prestigious conference to thousands of prospective buyers—you want your A+ players driving these initiatives. Our probability of success is so much higher with the proverbial ball in the hands of our stars.
And Seattle did exactly the opposite. Marshawn Lynch was their best player that night and had gained more than 100 yards up to that point. As the play was coming, Seattle fans would’ve screamed—we want him on that ball, we need him on that ball! Unfortunately for them, Seattle put the ball in the hands of their third best wide-receiver—Ricardo Lockette.
2. When Taking Risks, Take Them Early
If we have to take risks in any game or project, it’s almost always better to do it early and as quickly as possible. This is clear for those of us who are tennis players: we take more risks on the first serve and play the second serve cautiously. As a result, if we fail in our first attempt, the point is not over. We still have a chance to recover or even be ahead of where we were.
As marketers, we absolutely don’t want to try out untested messaging in a big end-of-the-year campaign or introduce some new pricing approach late in the 4th quarter of our business. These are risky moves that leave us no time for recovery and don’t give a second chance to get it right. Instead, if we want to take risks, we do it earlier, when less is on the line.
Pete Carroll, while defending his pass play call, pointed out that he had taken the same risk in the end of the first half, where Seattle threw the ball with just six seconds left and scored. He actually corroborated my point above—if the pass play had failed at the end of the half, he’d still have time to recover from the error. With fifty seconds left in the game, he left his team no time to recover in case a mistake happened. And it did.
3. When Making a Strategic Move, Always Choose Your Dominant Strategy
In the 1990s’, Princeton University Professors Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff published their book Thinking Strategically, a must-read playbook for all of us who yearn to gain a competitive edge in marketing, politics, or everyday life. In this book, they discuss the concept of a dominant strategy—a course of action a player takes that has the best chance to out-perform all his other actions, no matter what the opponent did. If this strategy is clear, the answer is simple: this is the first thing one should seek.
Imagine you’re a marketer in a highly price-sensitive market and have established the #1 position in your category. Let’s say your competition has introduced an aggressive promotion to gain some ground and finish strong at the end the year. Your best strategynot to lose any ground would be to exactly match that move—a course of action that can outperform others, no matter what your opponent did. With other factors remaining constant, you cannot lose market share based on a pricing war alone. Coke follows this strategy in many markets not to lose market share to Pepsi. And in Vegas, you can follow the same strategy vs. your friend in the last hand at the Roulette table.
With one yard left to gain, Seattle should’ve pondered—what course of action gives us the best chance to out-perform all others, regardless of what New England does? I opine that running the ball would’ve been the one. Why? Marshawn Lynch, the best running back in the league, had not been stopped before in the entire game for less than a yard (less than two actually). He had just gained four yards on the previous play. A quick risk-reward analysis should’ve skewed the decision entirely in favor of running the ball—the risk was significantly lower with running the ball than passing it, while the reward was no worse and likely better.
Many people point out that the New England player made a great defensive play by intercepting the ball. No arguments here. But a good strategist would’ve anticipated the risk of such an act at a critical juncture and reasoned backwards to call a play that mitigated this risk and provided equal or greater reward. Ironically, such a move would’ve also taken advantage of a strategic blunder by the opponent—inexplicably, New England didn’t call a timeout to save time in case their offensive needed to come back. The game would’ve been over if Seattle scored.
So there we go. My vantage point on three strategic missteps that either in isolation or in combination, can lead to undesirable results. However, a friend of mine presented a more evolved perspective on why Seattle lost—he reasoned that as they were never meant to be at the Super Bowl in the first place, given how lucky they were to get the win over Green Bay, the result was all about karmic justice. Maybe he is right. Maybe this had less to do with critical thinking. Maybe, Carroll was destined to have this momentary lapse of reason at perhaps the most critical moment of his career!