It is very upsetting to me that these big companies, with their big marketing departments and even bigger advertising budgets, waste so much money each year on frivolous Super Bowl commercials.

It’s even more upsetting that the marketing and advertising agencies involved encourage this madness.

These guys should know better!

It’s almost a flagrant display of wealth and zero common sense.

If you’re going to spend $5.6 million on a 30 second commercial, at least have the courtesy of trying to make some return on investment … at least follow some of the direct response TV rules.

Of all the ads that aired during the 2020 Superbowl, only 40% contained one or more direct response elements that could help increase return on investment and boost the ad’s success.

A full 60% seemed to have no purpose at all.

Some were downright awful … while most made the mistake of forgetting their #1 purpose completely: They tried to entertain rather than market!

On all 71 advertisers (some ran an ad more than once), only a handful applied Direct Response TV rules.

Can you guess who it was?

I’ll tell you below …

Before I do that though, let’s run through the rules your TV commercials (and, in fact, any of your advertising and marketing) should follow to maximize your return on investment.

 

6 Direct Response TV Rules

 

Rule #1:

Use direct response copy that is conversational, you-oriented, and educational (give the viewer something to walk away with that makes them look and feel smarter).

 

Rule #2:

Have a clear, easy call to action. Tell the viewer what you want them to do next, and show them the easy path to do that … text, call, visit a website, etc.

This is not only important in engaging the viewer, but it also helps you track the ads effectiveness. You can view the numbers and see the return on investment.

It’s called accountable advertising!

 

Rule #3:

Focus on the benefits of your product/service, not the features. And make sure it’s a benefit worthy of the price you’re asking your viewers to pay.

For example, Hyundai’s Smaht Pahk ad focused on a single benefit – that the car can self-park. The question is, is that single feature enough reason so spend $24,000? Is that single feature enough to have prospects researching more about the Sonata?

And what do the famous actors, faking terrible accents have to do with any of it?

In fact, if I hadn’t mentioned who the advertiser was, would you have even remembered anything more about the ad other than it was for a car that self-parks?

 

Rule #4:

Create a sense of urgency. Give the viewer a reason to pull out their smart phone, tablet, or laptop while they’re still watching to follow up! Discounts, special offers, competitions are all good ways to do this.

 

Rule #5:

Add V.I.V.A. where possible. This is valuable information, value added. It’s giving the viewer something they can use. Think of it as a gift of good will.

 

Rule #6:

Generate a data base. You want to generate leads for sales, for developing different types of relational marketing, etc.

 

We’ve created many TV commercials for our clients over the years, in which we applied all of these rules. You can watch some of those here.

So, against this list of basic rules, how did the 2020 Super Bowl ads stack up?

I’ll repeat myself: poorly.

Here’s a look at the worst 10 and best 10 ads for this year’s Super Bowl, with a score out of 6 (the six rules).

 

What Were They Thinking?
Super Bowl 2020 Worst 10 Commercials

 

Worst #10 … Little Caesars

This ad, while clever, doesn’t deploy any direct response copy, there is no call to action, it presents no benefits to the viewer, it creates no sense of urgency, and offers no value add. There is also no effort to build a database. It simply tries to entertain in a humorous way … always a gamble.

And while memorable in so far as “being better than sliced bread,” the Little Caesar brand easily fades into obscurity.

Effectiveness Score = 0/6

 

Worst #9 … Cheetos

There is an implied you orientation in this commercial, but it’s questionable that it’s a good thing. Do you really want to be the unhelpful, untrustworthy person? Is the benefit of eating Cheetos that your fingers will be too dirty to make you of any use to your fellow human beings? Is that something we really strive for? Is that the kind of person you want to be known as?

I’m skeptical.

Besides that, this commercial violates the other direct response TV rules: no call to action, no urgency, no database build, and no value add.

Effectiveness Score = 0/6

 

Worst #8 … Snickers

Make the world a better place by feeding it a Snickers bar? That couldn’t get further away from effective marketing and direct response TV rules if the creators of this commercial tried. No call to action, no “you” orientation, a dubious “benefit” that the world would be nicer, no value add, and no urgency.

If anything, the ad is insulting, poking fun at the very people they’re targeting.

Effectiveness Score = 0/6

 

Worst #7 … Hyundai

So … the 2020 Hyundai Sonata can self-park. That’s impressive. But is that reason enough to spend upwards of $24,000 on a car? Maybe for some people, but three famous actors standing on a curb, speaking in a bad accent, just doesn’t do anything in the way of applying the direct response TV rules. There is a benefit, but there is no value add, only an implied you orientation. No urgency either.

At best, this gets …

Effectiveness Score = 2/6

 

Worst #6 … Doritos

In an indirect way, being able to “dance” your mustache like that is “cool” … and having a dance off between two generations is a clever idea … this ad fails the direct response TV rules. All of them.

It’s clever. Too clever.

Honestly, how many people saw the ad, even related it back to friends and family later on, but can tell you what was being advertised? I would be willing to bet, very few.

This turned out to be one of the most talked about commercials, and also one the media has discussed the most.

People loved it, but forgot about it right after.

No value add, no benefits (besides being the “cool” kid/grandpa in town), no call to action.

Effectiveness Score = 1/6

 

Worst #5 … TurboTax

The problem with most of the commercials aired during the Super Bowl is that they try too hard to be clever and funny … and to entertain. As such, they fail to be accountable advertising that produces measurable return on investment.

Yes, I understand that the Turbo Tax ad is trying to show that ordinary people can do their own taxes with the right help … but it does little to show how this is possible, what sets it apart from all the other options out there … and why prospects should download the Turbo Tax app immediately.

Effectiveness Score = 0/6

 

Worst #4 … Mountain Dew

Mountain Dew’s Zero Sugar commercial got a few things right. It talked about some of the benefits of drinking the new Mountain Dew release: zero sugar, great taste, energy boost. It even added an unusual element of urgency – escaping a killer or killer thirst.

Still, too much of the ad was taken up entertaining rather than making a direct call to action or adding value. And it only indirectly had a “you” orientation, call to action, benefits description and urgency.

Effectiveness Score = 2/6

 

Worst #3 … Pringles

Talk about out of left field. No “you” orientation or any direct response copy of any kind, no call to action, no worthy benefits, no urgency, and absolutely no value add (besides entertainment value).

Effectiveness Score = 0/6

 

Worst #2 … Amazon Alexa

This commercial contains zero direct response copy, zero you orientation … and, in fact, nothing of relevance to today’s potential Alexa owners. There is no call to action and no value add.

I suppose you could argue that one of the benefits of Alexa is that you can ask random questions. But is that the deciding benefit when someone is considering buying one? I doubt it.

Nonexistent urgency.

Effectiveness Score = 1/6

 

Worst #1 … Planters

This was probably the most publicized commercial leading up to the Super Bowl …

Reinventing your brand can be a good thing, but when you symbolically kill off your old brand, only to replace it with a baby version of … the same brand?

What are Planters’ benefits to consumers?

What value does the baby nut offer?

Where’s the urgency?

Where’s the call to action?

In short, this commercial fails to apply any of the direct response TV rules … and so fails as an ad.

One advantage is that people will remember the product, regardless.

Effectiveness Score = 1/6

 

Not all the millions spent on making and airing commercials at the Super Bowl was wasted on simply entertaining rather than actually marketing and advertising.

Here are the top 10 good ads …

 

At Least Some WERE Thinking!
Super Bowl 2020 Top 10 Commercials

 

Best #10 … WeatherTech

While lacking the important “you” orientation, the WeatherTech add about Scout adhered to all the other direct response TV rules.

It provided a value add: information about research that could save millions of dogs.

It focused more on the viewer than on the company’s products.

It demonstrated social responsibility by showing how WeatherTech does more than just make rubber weather protection.

And it had a specific call to action, with easy details to remember and a website to visit: weathertech.com/donate.

It connects with the viewer on a very personal level.

Effectiveness Score = 6/6

 

Best #9 … Purple

Although it’s a dangerous line to walk, sometimes, humor can be effective in advertising … and Purple pulled it off in its Super Bowl commercial this year. More importantly, it used this humor to connect with its prospects pain and suffering with finding the perfect mattress. The “you” orientation was strong.

Its value ad is informational, explaining what’s wrong with memory foam and how prevalent it is.

The message isn’t lost in famous faces and entertainment.

The benefits of the Purple grid are clearly articulated.

And there’s a clear call to action: “Find out why that matters …” with an easy to remember website. In fact, that website was on the ad throughout the entire 30 seconds.

As far as urgency goes, there is an implied urgency is getting the right mattress on which to get a good night’s sleep.

Effectiveness Score = 6/6

 

Best #8 … ProForm

ProForm also followed the rules of direct response TV … and it too used humor as a way to relate to its prospects. Anyone who has ever tried to do workouts at home as felt clumsy and downright silly more than once.

Then is clearly explains a list of benefits that using the ProForm – rather than trying to go it alone – will give you in your quest to achieve better health.

It also gives a direct call to action: “Visit ProForm.com and train with a pro like ProForm.”

However, it did lack any sense of urgency.

Effectiveness Score = 5/6

 

Best #7 … Fabletics

This commercial scores well on my effectiveness scale for many of the reasons the previous ones have. It connects to the prospects insecurities (looking foolish when exercising), their dreams (being themselves without caring about others’ opinions), their goals (new year, new you), etc.

It contains a very strong, clear, “you” orientation.

It lays out clearly that benefits of the leggings.

It has a clear call to action.

Then it goes one step further. It gives an incentive to buy the leggings now. The prospect can get two for a cheap price! That’s urgency … and effective, accountable, marketing.

Effectiveness Score = 6/6

 

Best #6 … ADT

This commercial follows all six of the direct response TV rules well … even though it has famous personalities. In fact, it actually uses the brothers effectively.

It’s value add is the interesting information about how crime goes down when people tune in to watch the Super Bowl!

It’s website is clearly displayed on the ad throughout: ADT.com/passtheprotection.

And it kicks off ADT’s “pass the protection” contest, which gives a clear call to action and infuses it with urgency. A $250,000 home make over, designed by Jonathan and Drew Scott! That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Also, just like the WeatherTech Ad, it’s focus was more on improving the lives of its prospect than on its product, per se. The benefit of protection is implied … but other than displaying the ADT Home Protection kit on the screen for a few minutes, little more mention is made of it.

Rather, the attention is squarely on the prospect: “Tell us what you want to protect.”

Effectiveness Score = 6/6

 

Best #5 … H-E-B App

Yes, Eva Longoria is famous. But again, in this commercial, she’s not distracting from the benefits and the connection with the viewer. In fact, if anything, her entering a strangers home and mingling with the guests like she’s just another one of them, enhances her connected with us.

The benefits of using the H-E-B App are clearly spelled out.

There’s the competition to win a lifetime of groceries … which ads urgency.

And the call to action is clear as day.

Effectiveness Score = 6/6

 

Best #4 … QuickBooks

The people at QuickBooks have a good understanding of direct response marketing. Several years back, I spent a whole day with their marketing and advertising team, teaching them about direct response marketing. It looks like some of it stuck.

Again, it’s a famous face, but it doesn’t distract from the message. It demonstrates an understanding of the prospects pain points, and then lays out the benefits of QuickBooks.

And the call to action is interesting. Rather than just saying, “visit this website or call now,” it turns the action into an immediate benefit for the prospect: “Save over 40 hours a month with Intuit QuickBooks.”

Effectiveness Score = 6/6

 

Best #3 … YouTube

YouTube applied all sex of the direct response TV rules to create a powerful message.

It demonstrated how powerful it can be when used correctly.

It connected with viewers, as each of us chase our dreams.

And it’s call to action was a challenge: “What will you learn?”

Effectiveness Score = 6/6

 

Best #2 … ProFlowers

From the very first second, ProFlowers.com stuck to the basics.

Its call to action was clear, precise, and repeated many times.

It had a great offer, creating urgency: 30% off flowers for Valentine’s Day.

And it explained the benefits of choosing ProFlowers rather than any other florist: “handcrafted just for them,” “hand delivered,” etc.

Effectiveness Score = 6/6

 

Best #1 … Trump for President

Whether you support President Trump or not, his commercials for the Super Bowl followed all of the direct response TV rules.

Here’s the second one …

Benefits were clearly stated.

The value add was details about the various unemployment rates across the different minority groups.

There was a clear call to action, with a “text Trump to 88022.”

The only thing it lacked was urgency … but then again, there is an implied urgency around this year’s unpredictable presidential election.

It’s worth noting that part of President Trump’s marketing strategy in 2016 was to collect data. This election cycle he’s put this same strategy on steroids.Effectiveness Score = 6/6

Incidentally, his opponent, Michael Bloomberg, spent $x million on a 60 second commercial, and violated almost all of the direct response TV rules and principles.

 

There you have it. What we at Creative Direct Marketing Group believe worked and didn’t work in this year’s Super Bowl commercial line up.

Interesting to note is that, if you search for the rankings of the best ads that ran this year, you’ll find that some of those we’ve labelled as the worst rank right at the top.

There are many reasons for this, but effective, responsible, accountable marketing – direct response marketing – is not one of them.

Do yourself a favor …

If you’re going to spend gobs of money on TV commercials, or any advertising for that matter, make sure you’re doing so in an accountable way, following direct response rules. Not only will your prospects thank you, but your bottom line will thank you as well.

We have produced more than 300 direct response TV and video commercials. We’ve produced 13 infomercials.

We have grown and launched companies this way.

In addition, we’re pioneering addressable TV … this is where we can deploy commercials to our specific Transactional Data Modelled group. You can read more about this here.

We are also starting to merge geofencing and streaming video on platforms such as Hulu.

If you need any help, give me a call. I’ve been doing this now for 40 years. I’d be happy to bounce some ideas around with you. You can reach me at 615.933.4647.

Also, let me know what your favorite Super Bowl ads were this year … and your least favorite … and why. Email me at craig@cdmginc.com.

 

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