Customer Empathy Can Make Or Break A Super Bowl Ad

Empathy has been a common denominator in memorable Super Bowl ads for years. Lack thereof has created ad “bombs” that are still talked about today.

Customer Empathy Can Make Or Break A Super Bowl Ad

From viewership to cost of advertising, the “big game” seems to get supersized more every season. Indeed, Super Bowl 50 marks $4.5 billion worth of commercials sold to brands looking to share their messages with hundreds of millions of potential customers on game day. At a cost of $160,000 per second this year, anything but a win for brands investing in an ad is unacceptable.

What ensures a win? Celebrities? Cute Animals? Humor? They can help, but if a commercial fails to connect with the customer, all the fame, jokes, and puppies in the world can’t save it. At its core, a winning ad on game day demonstrates a brand’s fundamental empathy for its customers. A winning ad “gets” its target customers and shares their values. Regardless of budget or big names, when a brand crafts a message around what matters most to the customer, it creates a competitive advantage.

Empathy has been a common denominator in memorable Super Bowl ads for years. Lack thereof has created ad “bombs” that are still talked about today.

You probably remember Always’ inspiring #LikeAGirl commercial from last year’s Super Bowl. Fama Francisco, vice president of Global Always, said the company recognized a universal woman’s issue–lack of self-confidence as girls grow up–and decided to use “deep consumer insight” to step back and think about a way to use its airtime to make a difference.

In return, customers everywhere supported the brand, and the buzz of the spot continued after the big game.

So much so that we are all still talking about it:

GoDaddy learned the importance of empathy the hard way. After its planned commercial for 2015 was deemed insensitive to animal lovers everywhere–launching petitions and outrage on Twitter–the company pulled the spot and replaced it with a completely different ad.

That wasn’t the first time GoDaddy got it wrong with its customers. The company’s “Kiss” commercial from 2013 earned itself thousands of tweets that included #notbuyingit, used to flag the most sexist spots of the night.

Budweiser, however, got it right the first time around with its beloved “Lost Dog” Super Bowl commercial. Lost Dog depicts the ending everyone wants to see when a missing pet finds its way home. So it’s little wonder that Lost Dog is rated third on Ace Metrix’s list of the “Top 25 Most-Liked Super Bowl Ads of the Past Five Years.”

What should we look out for this year? SunTrust will advertise during the Super Bowl for the first time. SunTrust’s ad will aim to empathize with Americans over financial stress. According to a SunTrust press release, the company’s goal is to “help Americans talk openly about money” and spark a national conversation. During a time when student loan debt is raising concerns over Millennials’ ability to begin retirement funds, this commercial might just be the perfect amount of empathy the Super Bowl’s audience needs.

Another one to look for? Intuit’s ad, which will once again feature a small business. In 2014 Intuit customer Goldie Blox–a line of storybooks and toys aimed at getting young girls excited about science and engineering–made history for being the first small business ever featured in a commercial during the Super Bowl. In doing so, Intuit symbolically showed its small-business customers that it understands their challenges. It didn’t hurt that Goldie Blox had the same women’s empowerment theme as the admirable #LikeAGirl campaign.

Five million dollars well spent could be as simple as knowing your customer. Brands that are able to share and understand the feelings of their target audiences and craft their messages around this empathy create a secret weapon. This weapon can help take on the most popular celebrities–and even the cutest dogs–on game day.