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Advertising Purpose During the Super Bowl

02/02/2015 02:12 pm ET | Updated Apr 04, 2015

Many of the advertisements that companies ran during the Super Bowl reflected themes that advanced a societal aim. On the surface these ads seem completely altruistic. Deeper examination reveals that they reflect the company embracing a purpose for their business that benefits both their bottom line and society. That is an imperative for any business that seeks to sustain profit over the long term.

Super Bowl ads are the most expensive of the year. The fact that companies let their purpose shine during these pricey ads reflects what I have been teaching for years: that engaging society and the societal actors that I call shapeholders is the best way for a company to truly differentiate itself.

While the NFL's public service announcement on domestic violence reflected their attempt to play defense given recent controversies, here are some of the examples of companies going on offense by letting their purpose shine during the Super Bowl:

Coca-Cola - #MakeItHappy: Coke is working hard to associate drinking or sharing one of their products with happiness and happy people. What better way to promote that image than changing the prevailing sentiment from "No one likes you" to "There is no one like you" on the Internet?

McDonald's - Pay With Lovin': What better thing to promote that love? This message is core to the current McDonald's slogan -- "I'm lovin' it" -- and it drives people to their restaurants to take advantage of their offer to pay with lovin'.

Microsoft - #Empowering: Estella's Brilliant Bus is focused on giving disadvantaged children the chance to experience how they can use technology "to do more and achieve more." As they learn how to apply technology to improve their own opportunities, their proficiency with Microsoft products improves Microsoft's opportunities.

Procter & Gamble - Always #LikeAGirl: P&G takes advantage of a heavily male audience (young and old) focused on a macho activity to try to change attitudes towards young women. Empowering active women is central to the brand promise of Always. P&G promoting better perceptions of women is highly appealing to women, the primary consumers of their products.

Unilever - Dove #RealStrength: This ad promotes fathers' caring as the real source of a virtue that appeals to men: strength. Clearly the Super Bowl audience is heavily male, but it also included many women as well. Women highly value this message and do most of the shopping, even for men's products, so Unilever benefits in store aisles.

Examples of promoting positive societal behavior that are not as tightly tied to the product of the sponsor:

American Family - #DreamFearlessly: Promoting pursuing your dreams is a wonderful thing to do. However, the tie that American Family would "protect what you have achieved" as you do seems tenuous.

Nissan - #WithDad: With the help of Harry Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle" music, Nissan highlights the challenges of the working dad who travels frequently and works in risky jobs (in this case as a professional auto racer), but in the end promotes the virtue of dads taking time with their sons. Great message, but the tie to selling more cars is not direct.

Toyota - #OneBoldChoice: Toyota introduced a pair of ads that promoted the fact that "being a dad is more than being a father" and one highlighting how Amy Purdy breaks through any limits imposed by her disability. The Purdy ad at least gets close to Toyota's brand promise by focusing on mobility.

And now for my personal favorites:

Go Daddy - Working: Our nation, indeed our advances as a planet, come from hard-working folks who sacrifice to create a better world. They are Go Daddy's core customers, and their hard work is idolized in this ad.

Jeep - This Beautiful Land: Jeep uses a song that begins with a heavy does of American patriotism -- "From California to the New York island,
from the redwood forest to the Gulf stream water" -- but seamlessly goes on to tie in scenes from around the world, encouraging people to take a more global, multicultural view. This is especially appealing to me as someone who constantly exhorts our students at GW's Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) to study abroad. Jeep positions itself as an ideal vehicle to explore terrains, and this ad ties to that brand image. A plug at the end states, "The World Is A Gift -- Play Responsibly," while promoting the claim that their Renegade is "America's Smallest, Lightest SUV."

Turbo Tax - Boston Tea Party: This ad highlights the key skill of finding ways to accommodate the opposition to avoid conflict. While a core part of our purpose of Making Democracy Work at GSPM, I am not sure we are happy to see our standard bearer rowing backwards!

Having spent a significant portion of the year's advertising budget on a Super Bowl presence, these companies would be wise to adopt additional promotional plans to engage shapeholders.

Hon. Mark R. Kennedy (@HonMarkKennedy) leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).