The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


February 14, 2013

3 lessons in effective messaging from Super Bowl ads

This week’s “Ask the Mompreneur“ features an interview with Juan Garzon, a Charlotte, N.C.-based sales communication strategist.

QUESTION: Millions of small business owners watched this year’s Super Bowl, with its commercials being the highlight for some. CNN Money reports that a 30-second spot this year went for a record-high $4 million. What can we learn from these “best of the best“ ads for our own companies?

ANSWER: As entrepreneurs, we don’t have the luxury of having separate public relations, marketing and sales departments. We try to get the word out about our businesses any way we can, whether we’re pitching clients, networking, or sending out press releases. So how can we make sure our own brand message is effective when we are out there beating the streets?

To see examples of messages that work, and some that do not, we don’t have to look any further than this year’s Super Bowl ads. Sure, some were confusing - is it really about time you had a favorite T-shirt? - and some were just plain weird, like the kiss. But a few standouts hold key lessons in creating effective messaging that you can use in promoting your own small business.

1. Know your audience. Knowing your audience goes beyond demographics like age or income level. It means really getting to know what makes them happy and excited, what concerns or preconceptions they have about your product or service, and what makes them tick. You can often do this by just asking questions and simply listening more while selling less.

A good example of understanding your audience was the Best Buy spot with actress Amy Poehler. Sure, the “Parks & Recreation“ star is technically a celebrity, but she’s one that we can all relate to. She’s like many of us, who want the gizmos and gadgets Best Buy sells, but who may also have a few questions about them. To Amy (and to us), Best Buy says, “We get you, and we can help you.“

2. Define your objective. What do you want to happen as a result of your message? By setting a clear objective, you can ensure that your message stays focused and that its effectiveness can be measured. One way to do this is to ask yourself three questions:

-What do I want them to know?

-What do I want them to feel?

-What do I want them to do?

One interesting example of this is Mercedes-Benz’s “Soul“ ad. They want you to know that they have a new class of sports car for under $30,000. They want you to feel like all the privileges of driving a Mercedes - fame, women, cool dance moves - are attainable without having to sell your soul. And like the main character, you can buy or lease one today.

3. Tell a story. Science has shown us that the best way to reach people on an emotional level is to engage them with a story. We are evolutionarily hard-wired to respond to stories, and hearing them helps activate our entire brain. When we listen to a story, we automatically try to relate it to our own experiences, making the message more personal to us. Stories help us break down and digest complex ideas as simple narratives.

Many of the Super Bowl commercials had story elements in them, including the two we’ve mentioned. But Tide’s “Miracle Stain“ stands out, with a San Francisco 49ers fan’s rise to glory building up to a twist ending. The story speaks to sports fans and reinforces Tide’s tagline: “No Stain is Sacred.“

Jennie Wong is an executive coach, author of the e-book “Ask the Mompreneur“ and the founder of the social shopping website Email her at


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