The following is a guest post from Lindsay Singleton, who sits on the board of the Civic Responsibility Project and is SVP at Rokk Solutions. Opinions are the author's own.
Every February, millions of Americans tune in to the Super Bowl — not for the game itself, but for the commercials. Without fail, there are ad winners and losers, with some companies opting for humor and others tugging at the heart strings. And because of consumers' increasing demand for brands to engage in social good, each year, companies are using the advertising bonanza to highlight how they are responding to that demand.
Super Bowl LIV was no exception, with companies like P&G, Michelob, Verizon and Snickers attempting to contribute their message to the corporate social responsibility (CSR) narrative. As usual, the results were mixed, but this only trains the spotlight on the endless possibilities for brands to shine. By learning from what worked — and what didn't — companies can seize the growing opportunities in the social good space by communicating their values with stakeholders.
Lesson 1: Be relevant
So what worked? The P&G Olay ad featuring the hashtag #makespaceforwomen tied cause to the news cycle, referencing the all-female space crew currently on the International Space Station. Inspired by the all-female space walk in 2019, the spot leveraged a major feat for women in STEM that continues to make news.
Lesson 2: Stay true to your brand
The ad itself was catchy and built on an idea that is not political or divisive. It also built on Olay's long-standing efforts to promote female empowerment, so, while the content of the ad may have been new, it was perfectly on-brand for the company. The call-to-action was also on-par with what we've seen from Olay in the past: a low-bar social media ask that builds awareness but also results in real dollars being spent to support the organization, Girls Who Code.
Lesson 3: Connect with your audience
Verizon's 5G ad also worked by staying on-brand but it skipped the call-to-action and instead focused on its commitment to American communities. The spot charted a clean path between technology advances and the needs of first responders, which was a smart way to inspire and spark the imagination of audiences. And in Verizon's case, those audiences are beyond just the traditional consumers we assume companies are targeting. 5G is a major policy issue for tech companies and by highlighting the brand's use of technology for good, they were communicating to decision makers, as well as customers.
Lesson 4: Focus on impact
Not all ads were quite as effective. Michelob's head-scratcher of an ad promised to help convert six square feet of farmland to organic for every six-pack purchased. The spot didn't articulate the why behind organic farming and it made a hefty promise to change "America's organic farmland forever." That's a tough promise to keep, particularly when it is premised on the output of square feet of organic farmland, as opposed to the outcomes that change means.
As companies continue to define their purpose and build out the ways in which they communicate it to their audience, ads and marketing dollars will almost certainly be a tool in their messaging toolbox. And it should be: without sharing with stakeholders, brands lose out on an incredibly powerful opportunity to effect positive social change, engage with employees and build loyalty. But considering relevance, brand persona, key stakeholders and actual impacts will make overall marketing and communications around CSR effective — on Super Bowl Sunday or any other time of the year.