Every year, millions of people look forward to the final match of the National Football League (NFL) in the United States. Most of the 100-plus million viewers want to watch the world’s best football players give their all to win the coveted title of Super Bowl Champions.
Then there are those who tune in just to watch the highly entertaining halftime performances with big-name music stars.
Last but not least, there is a third category of viewers: Those folks who watch the Super Bowl simply because of all the funny, passionate commercials that air during the game. This attention is well-deserved, as advertisers invest a lot of research, money, and creativity – approximately $5 million – to come up with extraordinary ideas that aim to wow millions of people during a short 30-second spot.
Storytelling captures more attention
So what makes these ads so intriguing? Of course, the timing—during one of the biggest sports events in the world—makes them special. But in my opinion, what really makes these commercials popular is their storytelling approach.
Take, for example, the commercial in which a dad tracks his daughter’s first date via a car tracker — I bet everyone got a chuckle out of that one! Or how about the one where a baby tries to come into the world sooner than expected because he or she wants some Doritos? This compelling kind of storytelling has been used for more than 30 years, since Apple produced its 1984 commercial.
The most popular ads don’t simply tell customers what is unique about a particular product; they put the story first and let the product’s selling points speak through the story.
As shown by Super Bowl commercials, ads with stories show viewers the company’s personality and strengthens its relationship with them. They don’t focus on trying to sell or convince viewers of something. Instead, they entertain and touch the audience emotionally, and the storyteller’s intention to get people to buy is overlooked.
This effect is related to a mechanism called transportation, and there is significant research around its implications on business. In essence, storytelling is a more powerful tool for advertising and public relations than most other communication formats.
Interestingly, storytelling is an area where market research is often waiting for new developments from the real world instead of the other way around. For example, in one of my master courses focusing on storytelling, we have been analyzing past Super Bowl commercials and can’t wait for this year’s to debut for further analysis.
Purpose-driven business needs storytelling
As a millennial, I believe my generation loves the modern storytelling approach in all kinds of communications, as it can be a welcome antidote to our Twitter 140-character world.
We also love this approach because we perceive it as proof of a company’s authenticity, or purpose, which we value not only from the customer’s perspective, but also from the employees.’
When I looked at the 2016 Fit for Purpose report, I wasn’t surprised to see that nearly all the highest-ranked companies used a storytelling approach to bring their purpose to their customers. SAP is one of these companies, and as an employee, I get to experience how this company brings purpose into everything it does for our customers each and every day.
Who will win this year’s Super Bowl? What stories will this year’s Super Bowl commercials tell us? I hesitate to try to predict either outcome, but I am certain of one thing: I will enjoy the storytelling of this year’s advertisers!