Super Bowl ads are going for around $4.5 million per 30-second spot so just like in years past everyone's asking: "Is it worth the money?" Before answering that question, here's a formula for squeezing the most out of that Super Bowl platform, based on my experience running two campaigns for Skechers, one starring Kim Kardashian and one starring a little French bulldog named Mr. Quigley, with a cameo from Mark Cuban.

Many advertisers make their first priority winning the USA Today ad poll (having a "liked" spot) and/or making their spot "go viral" and getting the most impressions. However, this strategy fails to incorporate the most important business goal, namely, that advertisers are selling products and/or services. Entertaining or winning creative awards, while nice, should be not the primary objective of any advertising campaign.

As Brand Keys points out in a recent survey, engagement is key (which ultimately leads to purchase) and the entertainment value, while nice, does not move the needle for the brand in a meaningful way. A great example of this was the Volkswagen Darth Vader/Star Wars Super Bowl campaigns. These ads were quite entertaining and had the most "social media" appeal. Yet they didn’t do a thing for the sale of VWs. In fact, VW sales declined during the period in which these ads ran. Why? Because the ads didn't position consumer engagement as the most important criterion.

Generally speaking, four themes work well for Super Bowl ads: Humor, animals, family and celebrities. This year stacks up to be the year of the "Dad" where many ads focus on how Dad plays an important role in family and in particular, raising their children.

Regarding general circumstances unique to the Super Bowl and this year, in particular, nothing "goes viral" anymore without significant ad buys that serve as a "booster rocket." Gone are the days of homemade videos on the viral hit charts where people were sharing saying: Isn’t this "cute” or "cool" (like “Charlie bit my finger” or Justin Bieber singing)? The proliferation of homemade (and now professionally made) video content in "social media" is staggering. Thus, the expectation and criteria used for sharing has changed. Before being shared, videos must (quite frankly) be "remarkable" in context.

As a result, all the videos on the viral chart now have been produced and supported (meaning ad buys) by big brands. This holds true for videos and TV spots posted in connection with the Super Bowl as well. As a corollary to this, we are seeing brands "tease" or release their pre-Super Bowl campaigns on a mass media platform (i.e. big TV talk shows) first instead of just releasing them on the Internet and running the risk of them getting lost in the shuffle.

However, before creating the campaign, the objectives should be clearly defined and everything measured according to whether they meet those objectives:

  1. Engage the Consumer with the Brand Value Proposition: This is defined as creating more
    perceived value in the mind of consumers for the advertiser and more consumer demand for the product or services marketing
  2. Maximize Exposure: Drive impressions for the campaign across all forms of media and communications: paid, earned, owned and shared.
  3. Entertain: Create something "cool" and compelling that reflects favorably upon the brand and enhances the brand image with consumers.

Below is how I approached our Super Bowl campaigns at Skechers. This was at a time when we were moving the company from a lifestyle-only brand to a brand that could also be trusted to build a functional or performance division for the company.

Super Bowl Campaign "Checklist"

  • Create a powerful value proposition that will be incorporated into the campaign
  • Develop remarkable and entertaining creative incorporating this value proposition
  • Explore using Super Bowl tried and true "themes" like family, animals, humor or celebrities -- if you can include two or more, even better
  • Develop a plan six months or more in advance to maximize earned media: Using mass and traditional media to spark conversation and be a fire starter for social conversation

Case Study: Skechers Launches Running Division With Mr. Quigley Campaign

Here's how we did this at Skechers working with our new ad agency at the time, Siltanen and Partners.

Rob Siltanen, agency chief and a veteran who spearheaded many of Chiat Day’s Apple ad campaigns, understands well these priorities.

First, we knew that the most important thing we needed to do was convince consumers to trust Skechers to produce a running shoe and that our "mid-foot” strike technology was an innovation that could benefit runners. We made sure this "value proposition" was incorporated into the creative.

Second, we developed remarkable creative using a lovable French Bull wearing Skecher’s new "Go Run" shoes as he wins a race against a pack of greyhounds. The ad included Mark Cuban, which allowed us to incorporate three out of four tried and true Super Bowl themes (animals, humor and celebrity).

Third, we maximized "earned" media by first activating mass media with a captivating angle that the USA Today picked up on since our Super Bowl ad the year before featured Kim Kardashian. The headline read: “Kim Kardashian Replaced by a Dog in Skechers Super Bowl Ad." That went viral in that nearly every TV news network led with that headline and the Internet lit up with blogs and commentary on the subject. We then "teased" the spot in the weekly TV magazine shows and played the cute dog angle, which fortuitously caused a flap with a certain interest group opposed to greyhound racing. So we had an opportunity to respond that no greyhounds were mistreated in our commercial shoot and that, in fact, Skechers is a big supporter of animal rights.

Fourth, our Skechers Mr. Quigley spot was extremely entertaining and won third place out of 60 TV spots in the USA Today Super Bowl ad meter. It was also one of the most memorable TV spots that ran on the Super Bowl -- and to make things even better the ad ran during the fourth quarter of a tight game in the pod with the highest rating of the night (114 million people saw it).

Finally, the spot was successful in creating high perceived value for the Skechers GoRun line. Proof that the whole campaign worked well is that Skechers’ Performance division was successfully launched and by many accounts is a three-quarters of a billion-dollar division and growing.

In short, Super Bowl campaigns require a real strategic plan fueled by clear business objectives. If executed properly the money can be worth it and more. Absent of flawless execution, it's simply a huge bet that has little chance of paying off.

-- Leonard Armato has distinguished himself as a ground-breaking marketer, brand strategist and entrepreneur, launching some of the world's most renowned cross-industry careers, such as Shaquille O'Neal and Oscar de La Hoya. For years he has been a leader in the convergence of sports, entertainment, music, marketing and technology. Follow him on Twitter @leonardarmato.