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Christine Crandell Headshot

Super Bowl Ads: Sex Does Not Sell

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Does sex sell? Controversy? Or does the coolest, funniest ad sells more product? It's the perennial question that's asked each year during the Super Bowl commercial season. I love the Doritos goat ad, but as I shared it with my social network, was I evangelizing the brand or a piece of entertainment? After all, I don't actually buy Doritos that much. The problem is that most Super Bowl ads are quickly forgotten despite the glued eyeballs, dropped jaws and chuckling.

I would argue that these ads do not drive sales; rather, they create unhappy customers.

Super Bowl ads are enjoyed for their entertainment value, but the gap between what the ad portrays and expected experience customers want is often so great that it creates cognitive dissonance with the audience. That calls into question the brand's credibility. While brands revel in the attention they get, audiences are actually laughing at them instead of with them.

Audiences expect ads to entertain as well as inform them about the customer experience. Shoppers make purchase decisions based on the how they think they'll be treated as customers. In today's economy, customer experience is the new competitive differentiator; not the product.

According to Edmonds most car buyers want an experience similar to shopping at Best Buy or Walmart where customer services counts, the "buying process holds few surprises," and they expect the brand to be an indicator of how they will be treated at the dealership.

This year's Mercedes Benz ad of Kate Upton blowing suds at a new model CLA creates a pretty big gap between the experience customers want from a luxury car and what's being advertised. I own three Mercedes; none were purchased in the hopes of having a babe wash the cars. The ad makes me wonder about the company's investment priorities, marketing strategy and management's common sense.

Super Bowl commercials would suggest that brands think they've found the silver arrow, the magic button. Half-nude models and outrageous skits attract eyeballs longer and get more media attention than commercials focused on customers using actual products. On the surface, the strategy appears to "work" and thus the competition for who could shock more.

The big bust in that bubble is the way success is being measured. We've arrived at a day where Kate Upton's garter belt is more memorable then... what brand of burger was she eating again? We see a great story about a man's connection with his horse, but what does that have to do with.... beer was it? So many commercials focus on portraying a $1 commodity as a rare and highly sought-after gem. Is that a realistic way to sell Coke?

One of the best ads is for the Samsung Galaxy, which shows real-world examples of the customer experience. For the consumer shopping for a phone, the ad usefully conveys the experience they can expect if they purchase it. Customers will find that their actual experience matches the advertised one and that makes for a happy customer.

For the soft drink, burger, beer, and other ads, caveat emptor. The expected customer experience may or may not match the real one. The price to a brand of a mismatch is high; unhappy customers will quickly diss the brand and the product widely on social media reinforcing the brand's loss of credibility.

I wonder, is creating unhappy customers worth that 30-second, $4 million price tag for a Super Bowl piece of outrageous entertainment?