Super Bowl ads we’re SUPPOSED to like

My favorite Super Bowl ad was the guy singing about oat milk.

Not because I thought it was funny, or clever, or well produced – IMO, it’s none of those things. I liked it because the company didn’t care whether people liked it or not. They just wanted to stand out.

But when I looked at online reactions, I found out I was “supposed” to like other ads instead.

Too often in PR we wait for the media and Twitter to tell us “what people really think.” As in, maybe you liked one or two ads, but when you checked Twitter you saw they were getting panned, so you thought maybe you were off. And when you looked at the Northwestern U. rankings (cited by NYT), or the Ad Meter rankings (cited by USA Today), or the Adweek rankings (cited by guess-who), you saw a different take. As in, three different takes, because those three “authoritative” rankings conflicted.

Oatly is going to know in 3 to 6 months if the ad succeeded, because they’ll either see a sales lift or they won’t. And social media nerds and media pundits’ opinions won’t matter to them.

When your organization is in the spotlight, your executives depend on you for a calm, carefully reasoned take on what your audiences are thinking. If you repeatedly share breathless takes based off of knee-jerk social media sentiment and news clips, you will often be wrong and will lose credibility.

Remember the outrage when Nike launched its ad with Colin Kaepernick? People burning shoes and claiming they’ll never buy Nikes again? The company measured a $6 billion brand value increase and a 31 percent boost in sales. And looked prescient in light of this past year’s racial justice reckoning, when NFL players kneeling before games became commonplace.

When Steve Jobs announced the iPad, the biggest story overnight was what a stupid product name it was – people joked that it sounded like maxiPad. Eleven years later, most people don’t even know that controversy existed.

Remember those examples when your organization is staying true to its values and goals, but it seems like “everyone” is saying bad things about the risk you’re taking.

Oatly, the brand behind the oat milk commercial, doubled-down on the anticipated backlash. Three minutes after my favorite ad aired, they had sold out of the tee shirts they printed in advance that said “I totally hated that Oatly commercial.”

This article was originally published on February 10, 2021

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