5 Ways Startups Can Make Waves with Big Game-Style Advertising Tactics

The biggest advertising event of the year has come and gone, and with it, every entrepreneur’s dream opportunity to make a big splash with a worldwide audience.

The Big Game (I’m never sure when I’m allowed to say the name of it, for fear of lawyers) plays a big part in setting the tone for the next year’s advertising trends. Until the last few years, there was a long streak of hyper-masculine snack-centric brain-numbing noise. Brands wised up a little bit starting around 2017. They slowed down on making ads promoting easy-to-imitate features, and started making ads about brand-defining benefits.

If startups want to take advantage, they need to focus in on what a brand is and learn where branding really comes from. (Hint: branding is not how cold your beer is).

Here are five ways startups can use the advertising trends we learned from the Superb Owl to connect with their audience, regardless of size and scope:

StartupNation exclusive discounts and savings on Dell products and accessories: Learn more here

Show them your gooey insides

The practice of branding requires digging deep into your customer’s needs, wants and desires, and then building the core DNA of a brand by uncovering the inner stories that customers tell themselves – their self-concept.

The best brands in the world elevate people’s self-concept enough to create a condition that I call “Irrational Loyalty.” Irrational Loyalty is an emotional bond that’s so strong, customers wouldn’t even consider using another brand because they’d feel like they were cheating.

Creating Irrational Loyalty is the goal of all branding.

Customers form emotional bonds with brands because brands are like people. When customers first form relationships with brands, it’s like the flashy, sexy beginning of every relationship. There’s courtship, there’s romance, there’s…a limit to metaphors.

But when that relationship enters its next phase (i.e. bunny slippers, sweatpants and the end of mystery), something has to evolve to replace the shine of newness. That “something” should be a powerful emotional connection.

Take New York Life’s 60-second ad spot this year. Maybe it’s unexpected to think that a startup should emulate this 175-year old insurance company, but every business should take notes on the way this ad was purely focused on its brand.

Watch the “Love Takes Action” spot to see how a brand makes an emotional connection with its customers. New York Life takes 45 seconds to cinematically describe the four different kinds of love, and distinguishes the fourth as the strongest because it is based on action. Then they draw a direct line to the kind of love they have for their customers – love based on action.

This spot goes straight to the core of New York Life’s brand. They know that their customers need security, and want to provide for their families not out of obligation, but love. Making the connection from that love to the love they have for New York Life is simple.

What does this mean for startups?

If you have the opportunity for your brand to be in front of any audience of any size and have them walk away with one thing, then have them walk away with a deep understanding of who you are and what you stand for.

Startups will learn to access their gooey insides as well.

Related: What Can a Startup Learn From the Super Bowl?

Features should inspire feelings

Last year at SXSW, I spotted a crowd on a busy street all looking at something I couldn’t quite see. As I got closer, hoping for at least a minor celebrity or marketing spectacle, all I saw was a car parking. Then it became clear – it was a car parking itself.

That wasn’t even the biggest surprise. Instead of a high-end brand like Tesla or Mercedes-Benz, it was just a Hyundai. A Hyundai! I saw a preview of “Smaht Pahk” before Captain America got involved. Eventually the crowd dispersed, leaving the Hyundai alone.

The lesson here is that even if you have something unexpected, today’s options are tomorrow’s standard features. If Hyundai can do it, who else?

Cars have a long history of this (think power door locks, automatic windows, satellite radio) but every brand has features that another can adopt. That’s why branding can’t come from features alone. There’s time-limited uniqueness to features.

What does this mean for startups?

If you do have some kind of newfangled feature that delivers a benefit above and beyond what customers can get somewhere else, make sure you discover an emotional connection.

Your ad should speak less to what’s under the hood and more to the feeling that it evokes in other people. That’s why the “Smaht Pahk” spot has a limited shelf life. It reaches for an emotional connection, but only through a feature that other cars have or will have soon. It’s a funny spot, but it’ll fade fast.

Startups take note: if you must share your brand new feature, provide the benefit and connect emotionally. It’s not a long-term solution for your brand. Make sure you have something else up your sleeve.

Startups love to lead with bits and bytes and beveled screens, but feelings are what customers really crave.

The Big Game is only a means to an end

Heinz found a novel way to stretch their marketing budget further than their second quarter ad placement. Their “Find the Goodness” spot (directed by a Coppola!) told four simultaneous stories that ended on a four-way composed shot of a bottle of Heinz ketchup. It’s a five-for-one deal: after watching the SB spot, customers can track down and fully view the four individual spots that make up the fifth.

The genius of this spot is that it’s meant as a launchpad. Heinz knows that the ad itself is not everything. To get the most out of their (on average) $5.5 million investment, participating brands need to consider their Big Game spot not as the end goal, but as a means to the end, which plays out in lower cost media that meets audiences where they are. Smart brands use their SB ad as a point in time, not the whole story.

That brings us to Mr. Peanut. Mr. Peanut’s death was always planned and was announced a week prior with a widely watched pregame spot. Mr. Peanut was shown saving the lives of Wesley Snipes and the guy from Veep by making a brave sacrifice and hurling himself to his own doom. Planned tweets and other social interaction mourned the 104-year old icon while teasing the upcoming funeral, a new spot to be aired during the Game.

Death is always a risky venture for ads, but Planter’s gave themselves an advantage by creating a story arc around their campaign. They entered the Big Game largely unscathed, and their spot – featuring the birth of Baby Nut, presumably to cash in on the Baby Yoda craze – still maintained goodwill.

What does this mean for startups?

Startups that want to make full use of what they’ve got will use their marketing spots as merely the source of a much larger campaign. Plus, treating the spot as a stepping stone enables some breathing room to prevent potential blunders.

Open a dialogue

Lowe’s was an official sponsor of this year’s Giant Football Event, but opted not to spend cash on an actual spot during the game. Instead, they opted for a super-effective alternative that utilized the power of brand dialogues.

As every commercial aired, Lowe’s tweeted a reaction that pointed back to their own offerings. The MC Hammer/Cheetos spot got a shout out, as Lowe’s encouraged them to find “Hand wipes, Aisle 5.”

After TurboTax aired a spot claiming that “All people are tax people,” Lowe’s responded with, “All people are tacks people” and a picture of thumbtacks.

The gentle ribbing played directly to Lowe’s ideal customer (suburban, home-improvement-minded dad with a fondness for puns) while being quick-witted and fun. Lowe’s showed that they knew their brand, and were able to get the maximum mileage out of their ad-less Big Game presence.

“Newsjacking” isn’t a new approach, but done right, it can be as effective as a costly spot.

What does this mean for startups?

For startups, this can be a powerful way to stretch a budget that doesn’t quite extend to a 30-second spend during the Big Game. Lowe’s was able to create a dialogue with other brands in a way that fit their brand.

Just be careful to be respectful. Brand dialogues should all be in good fun. You don’t want to end up like the Great Chicken Sandwich Wars of 2019 – a single tweet destroyed the fragile chicken sandwich peace that had held for decades.

Sign Up: Receive the StartupNation newsletter!

Reflect your audience

I mentioned it before, but it’s a major evolution – brands are really starting to understand that the big game isn’t just being watched by white, middle-class dads with 2.2 kids and a fondness for taste-free beer.

More and more, I feel like the ads represent me. It’s crazy that this feeling is new – the Big Game isn’t just a big game, it’s a cultural touchstone. Brands are finally speaking to their audiences in a way that’s getting traction.

My favorite example of this was the Olay ad, “#MAKESPACEFORWOMEN”. It was widely liked, widely retweeted, but the part that affected me (the emotional bond that Olay formed) was that it was designed for “Girls Who Code.”

There were many other examples. Sabra Hummus debuted the first SB ad with drag queens (and drew the ire of some conservative groups for their efforts). Ellen and her wife, Portia de Rossi, played themselves in an Amazon commercial. Microsoft’s “Be the One” spot featured Katie Sowers’ journey to becoming the first female coach in NFL history.

What does this mean for startups?

Know thy audience.

Every brand I mentioned knew that their ad would be seen by their intended audience, not just the traditional SB target of mid-30s sports-loving men. Authentically representing your audience will pay off.


As a startup, it’s not always easy to distinguish yourself through advertising. However, using the above guide will help give your brand a chance to push through the noise and making a lasting emotional connection with your ideal customers.

Leave a Reply
Related Posts
Read More

Top 6 Tax Preparation Software for Professionals

Tax season can be more than a handful for any professional when it comes to managing their finances. There are numerous things to consider, and it's a stressful process to get everything in line. In...
Read More

How to Calculate Annual Gross Income: A Step-by-Step Guide

Understanding your financial health starts with one critical figure: your annual gross income. This isn't just a number; it's a reflection of your earning power and plays an important role in shaping major decisions.  Whether...