Is There Room for B2B Advertising In the Super Bowl?

It’s no secret that the Super Bowl hosts the most precious ad time of the year. Companies compete to create the most compelling ad; the one that will go viral and be remembered for years to come (Apple’s “1984,” the Budweiser frogs, and last year’s “The Force” from Volkswagen are some of my personal favorites, and I’m not alone).

But while B2C Super Bowl ads have created legends, boosted sales, and promoting brand reputation, B2B companies are left behind in the dust.

B2C companies have a considerably easier task when approaching Super Bowl ads. Most of the best ads each year come from companies with a well-known product and household brand. Budweiser and Coca Cola sell drinks, Volkswagen, Ford, and Honda cars, Snickers (with their popular Betty White-infused “you’re not you when you’re hungry” ad) candy. The product is already known, which gives them more room for creativity in constructing an effectively entertaining ad. The audience already knows what they’re selling.

When B2B companies try and take a similar approach and infuse humor into an ad in which they assume the audience understands their service, it results in some of the worst Super Bowl ads of the year.

The Bad

One of the biggest ad disasters of last year’s Super Bowl was the insensitive and puzzling Groupon ad campaign. At this point in time, Groupon was still getting its footing, and not many outside of the tech world knew about the daily deals website. But that didn’t stop them from approaching their ad time as if they were Budweiser.

Their first spot, “Save the Money, Tibet,” begins with Timothy Hutton speaking about the dangers Tibetan people and their culture face as images flash across the screen, only to find the actor in a Tibetan restaurant (courtesy of his Groupon) who clarifies “But they still whip up an amazing fish curry.”

Video courtesy of YouTube

Not only did the company offend the majority of its audience with the audacity of such insensitive spots (see also “Save the Money, Whales), most people still didn’t understand what Groupon was, or why they had the brand authority to promote such controversial ads. Essentially, Groupon didn’t have the reputation to back up such a risky campaign, and their PR suffered greatly for it in the days following the Super Bowl.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were the Salesforce “Still Doing Impossible Things” spots, which, while clearly trying to be creative (original animation visuals, a “baby” version of, a focus on technology and innovation) presented no clear theme, point of view, or service. They were unmemorable, except for the boredom they instilled in audience members.

Video courtesy of YouTube

Then there’s’s “The Contract.” While they were the only B2B company to successfully showcase their “product” with a shot of their website, they resorted entirely to the old adage “sex sells,” by showcasing their GoDaddy girls as apparently naked and redirecting the audience to their website for unrated footage.

Video courtesy of YouTube

Ultimately, the ad was lackluster and unoriginal. Although most of the audience could identify GoDaddy as a brand, their ad did nothing to promote their services, and was a turn-off to dedicated Super Bowl ad viewers.

The Good

Google is the only B2B company that has been able to avoid the Super Bowl curse, as their “Parisian Love” spot, a.k.a. “search on,” was a heartwarming and inventive ad in a sea of crude comedy. By putting the spotlight entirely on their primary service (search) and using it to navigate and narrate a love story, Google pinpointed exactly what their audience sees them as: an indisputable lifestyle resource.

Video courtesy of YouTube

By tracking important life events through relevant Google searches, Google was able to capitalize on the necessity of their service in a surprisingly human way.

So, can B2B compete in the Super Bowl ad realm?

If Google can do it, you can do it.

There are clearly challenges that face any large B2B company considering buying Super Bowl ad time that aren’t there for B2C companies. However, this means that any B2B company that can stand out positively can reap more benefits, as long as they include:

  • A clear explanation/showcase of their service

  • No assumptions about brand reputation

  • A demonstration of their value

This last one may be the most important. B2C companies can rely on comedy to enhance a campaign because their consumers have already made their products a part of everyday life. Budweiser doesn’t have to show that it makes beer or necessarily prove that it has the best beer; as long as they have hilarious talking frogs, the brand is going to benefit from the sheer use of comedy.

B2B companies need to find a way to showcase value, innovation, and humanity in their ads that capture more dedication than comedy spots.

What do you think? Are there any B2B companies you would want to see advertise during the Super Bowl?