There was a big sports game yesterday in America.

As often happens following this sports game, called the “Super Bowl,” content marketers write blog posts about the event. The main reason for this has to do with advertising. Super Bowl commercials have become a thing in themselves, and there is often a lot of buzz and brouhaha about which ads were the best, which were the worst, and which simply left us scratching our heads.

The consensus seems to be that the commercials this year were, by and large, underwhelming. I have to agree.

Chevy focusing on how many JD Power Initial Quality Awards they had won seemed like an odd way to spend $5 million. And even Honda’s clever use of celebrity yearbook photos, illustrating a “follow your dreams” message, was undermined by the bizarre notion that buying a Honda CRV epitomizes that sentiment.

The Lessons Lie Elsewhere

Given how forgettable the ads were, marketers could draw that conclusion that Super Bowl commercials, and probably television commercials in general, are a colossal waste of time and money. That’s not really earth-shattering news (which could actually be wrong) given that spending on digital advertising is supposed to surpass spending on television this year.

That being said, there were some less obvious lessons to be learned from the Super Bowl.

1. Millions of People Don’t Watch TV on TV

My household doesn’t have a television. We may have one in the basement, but I think my wife gave it away.

We do have an Xbox, however, as well as several smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

This means that, for the first time ever, I did not watch the Super Bowl on a television. I watched it on (or through) a gaming console. A quick Google search helped me figure out how to do that:how_to_watch_onlineLast year, when CBS broadcast the Super Bowl, they reportedly streamed the game to 3.96 unique viewers. Fox had the rights this time around and were predicting even higher numbers.

One way or the other, over 100 million people watch the Super Bowl. In fact, as Variety wrote, “The Super Bowl… is the only way for advertisers to simultaneously reach more than 100 million Americans…” In other words, even if 5 million people watched the live stream (in my household there were 4 watching it), that is still just a fraction of total viewership.

Nevertheless, it’s not like the number of people watching on television is going to grow while the number watching a stream is going to shrink.

The lesson here is not that marketers need to pay more attention to mobile in their marketing mix (though they should). It’s not even that they need to adopt an omni-channel approach (though that would be nice, too).

No, the real lesson is that the proliferation of devices means more than the fragmentation of the media landscape; it means, marketer, that your audience is far more fragmented that you want to admit. And your chances of finding them all in one place at the same time are going down.

2. Bigger Isn’t Better. It’s Boring.

I watched the game with my wife, our teenage son, and a friend of his. My wife didn’t really grow up in a sports family, so she only wanted to see Lady Gaga. Apparently, she was not alone in this. According to Nielsen, the game overall had a 48.8 rating but Lady Gaga’s halftime performance hit 50.

The teenagers bailed before halftime. They found the game and the commercials boring. (Of course, they were distracted watchers from the outset, splitting attention between the game on the Xbox and their phones.)

It’s no secret that the NFL is losing viewers. NFL ratings were down 9% for the year and 6% during the playoffs. What’s more, I couldn’t watch without constantly thinking about the damage being done to the bodies of these highly paid athletes and wondering how many of them were already suffering from CTE.

In other words, as this national pastime continues to lose its luster, how long will it be before “the only way” for advertisers to reach an audience of this size becomes a thing of the irretrievable past?

On this note, the audience fragmentation mentioned above has more to do with content than it does with devices. With so many content choices, it’s no surprise that there are fewer and fewer types of content that are universally appealing. In fact, it’s a given that any content you create with mass appeal in mind will also be massively boring.

Don’t focus on the big thing. Focus on the better thing, and strive to create that better thing for a thin slice of the audience.

As long you are not boring the wrong people, you’ll do ok.

3. Believe in Your Selfie

As I mentioned above, the teenagers in our house were watching the game and their phones. I’m positive that they were not an isolated pair out of the game’s 111 million viewers. Indeed, this famous viewer (Gisele Bündchen, pictured below) made her phone an integral part of her celebratory game experience.


This is a powerful reminder that marketers are not just competing with other companies for the attention of customers. They are competing with the customers themselves.

Here’s a way to apply this lesson to your own content: Whenever you produce a piece of content, ask yourself, “Will the intended audience find this content more interesting than they find themselves?”

Personalization may help companies answer “yes” to that question. Unfortunately, I think personalization is going to have to get a lot more personal (that means going beyond “Hey, Matt” and “People who purchased X also purchased Y”) before that “yes” becomes anything close to a sure thing.

What lessons did you draw from the Super Bowl?

Image Source (Creative Commons): Official U.S. Navy Page.

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