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5 Digital Marketing Lessons from the 2015 Super Bowl

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by: Todd McCormick (@TMcCormick2011)
06 February 2015

If you've been following my blog for a while, you know I'm a huge Alabama Crimson Tide fan. College football is my true love, but I always tune in to the Super Bowl. As I'm both a sports fan and a marketing expert, watching the big game is practically required.

This year's game was an exciting one, complete with a bad play call, a big brawl, a last-minute win and a poorly timed commercial. Here are some highlights — and the digital marketing lessons we can learn from them:

1) It's Not Over Until It's Over

The game didn't pick up speed until right before halftime, when it became a nail-biter. Finally, with less than a minute left on the clock and the New England Patriots in the lead, it seemed the Seattle Seahawks were about to score a game-winning touchdown. But then an unexpected interception stole the Super Bowl rings out of Seattle's grasp.

The Patriots' last-minute win proved what football fans often forget in the heat of the moment: You haven't won or lost the game until the final buzzer sounds. Marketing translation: You haven't lost digital customers until they've opted out.

Whether you have cart abandoners, browse abandoners or customers who haven't made a purchase in months, you can win them back with retargeting strategies and relevant content. (Read more: "How to Identify and Win Back Lapsed Customers.")

2) Bad Calls Are Inevitable

In football, marketing and life in general, you're going to make some bad calls. Pete Carroll, the Seahawks' head coach, knows this all too well. With seconds left in the game and his team at the one-yard line, he went for a pass rather than letting his star running back take the ball home. This regrettable decision still has fans scratching their heads — and even calling for his job.

Carroll won't get a redo, but digital marketing is more forgiving than football. With the right marketing automation platform, you can test out different content and images, determine what resonates best with your audience, and change underperforming strategies and content out in real time, even after emails have been sent. (Learn how Peter Glenn Ski & Sports saw a 63 percent lift in click-through rates with real-time testing.)

3) Negativity Is Not Trendy Right Now

The emotional roller coaster finally became too much for the Super Bowl contenders. When the Patriots attempted to run out the clock with 18 seconds left in the game, a shoving match ensued. When pushes turned into punches, Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin was ejected.

The players weren't the only ones sparring. On social media, Sprint's and T-Mobile's CEOs sniped at each other via Twitter over their competing commercials.

Maybe everyone should have paid closer attention to the Coca-Cola Company's "Make It Happy" ad campaign. Coke wasn't the only advertiser with a positive message, either — most of the commercials were surprisingly upbeat and even wholesome.

The lesson for marketers: Save the negativity and smear campaigns for politics. Consumers would rather do business with brands they trust, that make them feel good and that add value to their lives. (Read more: "Are You a Best Friend Brand? How Relevance and Trust Can Get You Into the Inner Circle.")

4) Timing Is Everything

Of course, a commercial doesn't have to be happy to be powerful. Other emotions — fear, sadness or loss — can be fierce motivators. But the key to great marketing is knowing what your audience wants to hear, how they want to hear it and when they're listening. It seems Nationwide forgot (or at least misjudged) this important marketing lesson.

In case you haven't seen it, the controversial "Make Safe Happen" commercial features a boy who shares all the things he'll never get to do because he "died" in a preventable accident. Like most parents watching the Super Bowl, my mouth (and mood) dropped when that commercial aired. I worry about my children all the time. I didn't need a reminder of their mortality during what's supposed to be a fun event.

The commercial earned Nationwide plenty of press and social media coverage, but it's overwhelmingly unfavorable feedback, and some customers are even canceling their insurance policies. Moral of the story: If you don't know what your customers want, your marketing can do more harm than good. (Read more: "4 Ways to Deliver a Personalized Marketing Experience for Customers.")

5) You Don't Have to Be a Big Star to Make a Big Play

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady won "Most Valuable Player" for leading his team to victory and scoring four touchdowns. But it was undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler whose astonishing interception sealed the team's victory.

The lesson for marketers: Small brands can make a big splash with the right digital marketing platform and strategies. This isn't just inspirational for startups, but also a warning for larger companies to not get lazy about customer engagement. That's how long-lasting brands get taken down by innovative new players. Remember Blockbuster? My kids certainly won't. But they'll know all about Netflix. (Download the "Ultimate Guide to Assessing Your Digital Marketing Program" for strategical insights on optimizing your efforts.)

The 2014 football season has come to an end, but we never stop learning digital marketing lessons. For more insights and strategies that will help you engage customers year-round, stay tuned to my blog and visit Silverpop's Resource Center.

Related Resources:

1) Tip Sheet: “10 Digital Marketing Tips for a Successful 2015

2) Blog: “Tim Duncan, Sports Illustrated and the Perils of Broad Segmentation

3) Blog: “First and Goal: 7 Marketing Lessons from College Football




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