Table of Contents:
- The 3 things every Super Bowl ad needs
- The Super Bowl ads that worked
- The Super Bowl ads that didn’t connect
- The risk of a Super Bowl ad
- Evaluating the ROI of a Super Bowl commercial
- “Don’t take risks you don’t need to take.”
- Breaking down the Beyoncé ad
- Differentiating your personal views from your brand views
Super Bowl ads: Lessons from Beyoncé, J. Lo and Taylor
DARA TRESEDER: You don’t only want people to remember the ad, but you want them to remember the brand behind the ad. And I think there were a few ads that everyone is talking about the ad, but no one is remembering the brand.
BOB SAFIAN: Bud Light stayed very light.
TRESEDER: You could say that again. They were so light. They were so light. They were up in the air, right? It’s about really understanding who your brand is, who your customers are and what you’re going to do, But I will say, at the end of the day, there are hard costs associated to this. So if you spend that money, show me the ROMI, show me the ROMI, show me the return on marketing investment.
SAFIAN: That’s Dara Treseder, chief marketing officer at Autodesk, formerly at Peloton, Apple and elsewhere. Today’s episode dives into this year’s Super Bowl ads — what worked, what didn’t, and what the millions of dollars spent on airtime and celebrities indicates about the year ahead for anyone trying to make a connection with customers. Dara shares her take on everything from Bud LIght to Beyonce, plus her three-part rubric for what makes an ad a winner. There are meaningful lessons for any business, along with plenty of fun! Let’s get to it.
SAFIAN: Hey, Dara, how you doing?
TRESEDER: I’m good, how are you?
SAFIAN: It’s great to see you.
TRESEDER: I’m ready to play this game. Let’s go. I watched, I watched the entire Super Bowl. I have to tell you, this is probably the first time I actually watched the whole thing.
SAFIAN: It was exhausting. It was exhausting, right?
TRESEDER: It was exhausting. And, you know, I’m a 49ers fan, so I was quite devastated at the end when we lost in the last 10 seconds of overtime. But, you know, Taylor Swift’s boyfriend is happy. So I guess, it’s just a reminder that it’s Taylor’s world and we’re all just living in it.
SAFIAN: So I just want to let the audience know. So I’m talking to Dara Treseder, who’s the chief marketing officer at Autodesk. And we’re talking about the Super Bowl, but where we really want to talk about is the game that went on, the competition between advertisers and marketers, right?
Dara, you, I’m told, were offered an opportunity to spend 7 million dollars for 30 seconds and you declined. So now, afterwards… regret, relief, like after seeing what everybody else did?
TRESEDER: I think we made the right decision for us. You know, I would say, I think the Super Bowl is a winner take all situation. So I think you only go to play when you are going to win. This is not a participation trophy exercise, okay. And if you’re not one of the winners and no one’s talking about you and you just made absolutely no effect, it’s really hard to make a business case for the ROI on that.
And my team knows me. I’m very corny with the saying, show me the ROMI. Show me the return on marketing investment. I think, you know, not to say we’ll never do one, right? I think that, I think there are times when you do need to do a Super Bowl ad, but you have to play to win. If you weren’t winning and you made no impact, you just flushed 7 million dollars down the drain.
The 3 things every Super Bowl ad needs
SAFIAN: So I want to ask you about this idea of like, what the return on the investment is, right? Because, well, first of all, like I’m looking at different sites today about the best and the worst ads and some sites, like I’m looking at the New York Times, and I’m looking at Adweek and like, some have the best ones listed as the worst ones.
Like, they’re, they’re all over the map, you know? So how do you know what your return is? And is it different for each marketer?
TRESEDER: Look, the most important thing you need to do with the Super Bowl commercial are three things. One, you need to be memorable.
Even an ad that someone else might not like, someone might be like, Oh, that’s the winner, because it’s memorable. If you are an ad that no one remembers and no one’s talking about you, well, there’s no participation trophy you lost, right?
The second thing is you want it to be ownable. You don’t only want people to remember the ad, but you want them to remember the brand behind the ad. And I think there were a few ads that everyone is talking about the ad, but no one is remembering the brand.
So what a waste for that brand. So it’s really important that you’re ownable. And then the third thing is it’s important to be relevant, because that relevancy allows you to not only capture hearts and minds in the moment, but it allows you to leverage that moment to give your brand momentum going into the rest of the year.
And so some brands did a really nice job of that.
The Super Bowl ads that worked
SAFIAN: Alright. So maybe you can give me an example of one that you thought was particularly memorable.
TRESEDER: The ad that I thought was memorable, ownable and relevant was the Dunkin Donuts ad. I thought they brought it home, you know, seeing Ben Affleck and his little boy band. I was like, this is such a cool boy band. How do I become a groupie for this boy band? And just seeing them enjoy themselves and talk about brand placement, right?
You could not miss that that was a Dunkin Donuts ad.
SAFIAN: Oh yeah. They were wearing pink and orange all over the place.
TRESEDER: They were pink and orange everywhere. So I really…
SAFIAN: It didn’t have to be about coffee or donuts, but you remember the brand.
TRESEDER: You remember the brand. It was very ownable and you know, you had that kind of scene in the car before Ben Affleck goes in where there’s the Dunkin Donut drink. So you had that placement as well.
And then, you know, the line at the end where JLo basically tells everyone else they could go, but Tom Brady can stay. I was on the floor. I was literally dead on the floor. So funny, so hilarious.
And, you know, JLo used to be a judge on, I believe it was American Idol. So it’s also that funny thing of, you know, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck kind of not getting an invitation to stay, but there was just so many memes, so many insider jokes in there, but also like just, even if you know nothing about Ben Affleck or JLo or Dunkin Donuts, you enjoyed that spot. So that was a really good spot. And they’ve continued to release cuts on social media. Their social presence has exploded. And so, I really thought they did a really nice job.
SAFIAN: Yeah. And they have some products, I guess, that they’re going to be selling in the store that use the names, right? Like, they’ve thought it all the way through, so it keeps going.
TRESEDER: Exactly. They really did a nice job of threading that all the way through.
Another ad that I thought did a good job was the State Farm ad. With the “like a good neighbor” with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Look, they had their clear value proposition. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.
They did not deviate from that. But what they did was, you know, give aa Red Bull shot, right? They gave a shot of adrenaline, a shot of energy to that tagline, just kind of reenergizing it. It almost reminded me of that, “what’s up” ad from like way back when, right? So, you know, I can imagine you’re going to hear a lot of people saying “like a good neighbor” and like really leaning into that.
And who doesn’t love, you know, a little Danny DeVito at the end there.
SAFIAN: It was an interesting choice they made, too, though, not to, like, continue to play off the Chiefs, because Mahomes and Andy Reid have been in their ads, like, and Kelce over and over, so they were, like, no, we’re not going to go that way.
TRESEDER: I thought it was a smart choice, because, you know, there’s already so much energy around the Chiefs with Taylor Swift and Travis and as a brand, you don’t want to get lost, right? And so if they leaned into that, they probably would have gotten lost, but instead, bringing Arnold Schwarzenegger and just kind of going a completely different route. I thought that they were able to regain interest. They did a nice job of not overplaying a hand that’s already worked.
Instead, they dealt a new hand, and they won.
The Super Bowl ads that didn’t connect
SAFIAN: Alright, so I want to ask you about, are there ones that sort of, were memorable, but didn’t really connect the brand?
TRESEDER: So, the Temu ads, I thought they were memorable, but maybe not for the best reasons. In these high stakes game, you know, the ad has to be enjoyable. You know, I remember my kids were there watching the game and they were loving the ads, mama, what you think of this ad and that ad.
And of course, they know like Autodesk softwares used to make a majority of these ads. So they’re like Autodesk, I’ll make all these ads, mama. What do you think? But I remember when the Temu ad would come up, my son is like, okay, I’m going to go get, you know, another ice cream. I’m going to go get a piece of cake and that was a signal to me of, okay, these ads are just not resonating.
SAFIAN: They ran it like three times.
TRESEDER: They ran it like… and what a missed opportunity, I thought, so memorable, but not for the good reason. If I remember you as when I actually went to go, you know, take a bathroom break or get some snacks, you know, that’s not exactly what I want to remember.
SAFIAN: The ad that stuck in my head as being the biggest groaner for me was the Snapchat ad.
TRESEDER: Oh, yeah.
TRESEDER: You know, it’s interesting, but I would say, if you hadn’t mentioned it, I wouldn’t even have remembered it. So I don’t think that ad… I don’t think that ad was memorable.
But also, I think to your point of being relevant, right. We’re just, we’re sitting in the aftermath of having had these social media CEOs be summoned by Congress and questioned about the impact of social media on people’s minds. And I thought, here’s an opportunity for you to build trust.
And instead, what I would say is, in some ways, it felt like, patronizing and, and like, it was not building trust, but instead taking away from trust. Because it’s like, you’re not taking me seriously and saying, how are you going to make this safer? You’re just telling me that you’re not social media, but you are social media.
And so that felt like, you know, you’re not, you’re not actually addressing the core concerns that people have. So in some ways, it’d be interesting to see if that did anything for them. But I, I doubt that it would have.
SAFIAN: So on the relevance front, most of the ads were trying to be funny. You know, there were a lot of celebrities.
TRESEDER: Oh, gosh.
SAFIAN: There was not a lot of effort to like reach emotion, other than humor.
TRESEDER: That was a big observation that I had. This is not the year about provoking people. This is the year about playing it safe, right? And when people want to play it safe, what do they do? They lean into comedy, safe comedy, or they lean into nostalgia.
And a lot of the ads were all about nostalgia. If you even look at the demographic of the celebrities that were used, right? Majority of the celebrities that were used were, you know, not the Gen Zers, right? It was a, you know, a sort of millennial, Gen X, even boomers, right? It was a very different demographic.
So you saw people leaning into nostalgia. You saw them leaning into humor. And I think the Super Bowl always sets the tone for the year. And it’s interesting, right? Because we’re in an election year here in the United States. And I think what you’re hearing brands say is we’re staying out of it. We are going to be playing it safe.
We are focusing on humor. We are focusing on what unites us, not what divides us. We want to stay out of anything polarizing.
SAFIAN: Hmm. Businesses are not gonna say who they are or deliver their personality in a way that might set somebody off.
TRESEDER: No. You are hearing brands say loud and clear this is not the year. This is the year to focus on what unites us.
SAFIAN: Bud Light stayed very light.
TRESEDER: You could say that again. They were so light. They were so light. They were up in the air, right? I mean, you throw in a, uh, was it a yellow lab? You throw in a dog in there. I was like, okay, so they’re clearly like saying, Hey, we don’t want to be a part of the conversation in that way.
SAFIAN: There was very little risk taking.
TRESEDER: Very little risk taking. 60 percent of the ads use celebrities and 30 percent use multiple celebrities. So there was very much a, let’s kind of coast off the wave of celebrities. Let’s play it safe. Let’s not take any crazy chances. I will say, some people got super creative and interesting.
And I really love the Kawasaki ad, because is there anything more American than a mullet? I don’t know if there’s anything more American than a mullet.
SAFIAN: Driving by everything and turning it into a mullet.
TRESEDER: And turning it into a mullet.
SAFIAN: Like, who came up with that idea?
TRESEDER: I mean, it was brilliant. And when you saw that eagle get a mullet, my kids were loving it. They were like, mommy, the eagle is a mullet.
I have to say this, those mullets were created using our Autodesk designer made platform by one of our amazing customers, The Mill.
The risk of a Super Bowl ad
SAFIAN: So earlier, you were talking about the reason that you didn’t want to, you know, buy an ad, right?
Which is that you couldn’t own it. You couldn’t win. And I’m just thinking about this parallel you’re talking about, about, you want to be memorable, but at the same time, it’s not a time to take a risk. Is that part of the reason why you said like, “I’m not going to do this this year, because in order to be memorable, I have to take a risk, but it’s not a time to take a risk.”?
TRESEDER: If you’re doing an ad in the Super Bowl, you have to take a risk. But I like to say you have to take what I call a clear eyed risk. What is a clear eyed risk? A clear eyed risk is where you gather as much data as you can, you strip away uncertainty, and then you make a decision with conviction.
And, you know, going into this Super Bowl, right, knowing how brands were going to play it safe. That type of environment, you really have to plus up your ad, because the worst thing in the world is to spend that money and not have a return. And so, as a CMO, right, I had to kind of weigh all the things we have to do with the money that we have.
And when I looked at what the return could be versus other things, it just didn’t make sense for us this year. I’m not saying we’ll never do one, because you know, there might be a year that it absolutely makes sense for us. But you have to go in with that calculus.
And also, you have to think about the fact that you… sometimes some of these things are an investment that might not pay off immediately, but has to, you know, sort of go through time. And so you also have to be thinking about, where is your business in its life cycle and what is needed there and then.
And the right decision will vary year on year, right? Like, I really loved the CeraVe spot with Michael Cera. You know, I was like, what a brilliant spot. It was so funny and so smart and you know, it was memorable.
It was ownable and it was relevant, right? And so I think that you had to go through that rubric almost in a very scientific way. And if at the end of the day, you had a creative idea that checked all of those boxes and could deliver the ROI, then go ahead. But if you don’t, it might be the year that you say, you know, this is the year I’m going to be eating chips on the couch and cheering for other people.
This isn’t the year I’m going to be in the arena. Because when you step in the arena, you better be ready to win.
SAFIAN: Last year, I know you guys put money behind some campaigns at the Oscars that were very funny and relevant.
TRESEDER: Yes. And we won. We won.
Evaluating the ROI of a Super Bowl commercial
SAFIAN: That really, that, that really worked. You’re talking about sort of the time that you think about for the ROI. And I’m curious, like some brands did a lot of pre work.
Because the winning the day after isn’t necessarily really winning for your business. Or is it? Is that all it’s about, you know, winning it the day after the Super Bowl?
TRESEDER: Well, I think you have to win for your business. And I think the way you win for your business is, you have to win during the Super Bowl. You have to win before the Super Bowl. And you need to win after the Super Bowl. Right? So I think the right winning strategy looks at the pre, during and post.
You need a 360 degrees integrated marketing strategy around it, right? Because one of the things I, my team and I love to talk about is we focus on brand to demand to convert. I really believe that brand desire fuels growth. And so, the opportunity that the Super Bowl gives you is you are in front of over 150 million people tuning in and watching and hundreds of millions of people who are going to participate in the conversation online, by the way, from around the world.
And so as a brand, you have to really think through, what is the strategy to kind of capture brand desire? But then how do I make sure that I can take that desire and use it to fuel growth?
SAFIAN: You want to create desire and need for something that you can actually fulfill, not that somebody is going to go somewhere else for it.
SAFIAN: The way you describe the Super Bowl is like a zero sum game. I’m not sure I buy that all the way. And I think some of these advertisers can win, even if you didn’t win everything.
TRESEDER: Here’s what I’ll say. Right. I think looking at that rubric, right. Of being memorable, ownable, irrelevant. If what mattered most to you was being ownable and you were willing to give away, you know, some of the things around being memorable, being relevant, because that’s all that really mattered.
And you know that that’s what’s going to make the most for your business. Good for you. Right. I think at the end of the day, it’s about really understanding who your brand is, who your customers are and what you’re going to do. But I will say, at the end of the day, there are hard costs associated to this.
So if you spend that money, show me the ROMI, show me the ROMI, show me the return on marketing investment.
SAFIAN: Show me the ROMI! Love that. You need discipline alongside the magic to make impact that matters. Coming up after the break, risks worth taking, Beyonce’s power move, and the brand of San Francisco. Stay with us.
“Don’t take risks you don’t need to take.”
So if you’re a brand, you’re a marketer, you don’t have money for the Super Bowl. You don’t really have money for a slew of celebrities, right? Like, the messages you get from this event kind of seem like, as you’re talking about it sets the year, like don’t take too much risk, but what do I do? How do I get my message out there?
TRESEDER: So first of all, I think the message isn’t: don’t take too much risk. I think it’s only take clear eyed risks, right? Don’t take risks you don’t need to take. And be also be focused on your value proposition.
Customers and consumers, they’re not looking for their brands right now to tell them who to be or how to live. They’re looking for their brands to tell them how they’re going to help them.
And then I think the third thing is, don’t forget the magic, right? You see, in the Super Bowl, lots of people throwing lots of things and, but the brands that, you know, bubbled up to the top, the brands that all of us are talking about are those brands that had creativity.
But here’s the thing, even if you’re not doing a Super Bowl ad, you can lean into the conversation. So for example, for us at Autodesk, you know, the stadium that the game took place in was actually designed and made with our platform in a record two and a half years ahead of time and ahead of budget.
So I do think that, you know, if your brand is in any way connected, there’s still a way to sort of lean in.
SAFIAN: You were talking about things bubbling to the top. And I was thinking about the different ads about soft drinks, you know, that there were sort of, very humor oriented ones for, for Mountain Dew and for Starry, but then there was the Poppi ad, which was not particularly, I don’t know, surprising or funny, but was very clear about what it was about.
Right. There’s a soda out there that, you know, only has five grams of sugar instead of 30.
TRESEDER: So I, that’s one that I think was ownable, but maybe not as memorable and not as relevant. So again, I come back to this trifecta because I think they did a really good job of the ownability. Like you knew Poppi, right? It’s like, I, you know, it’s like, I even had my kids be like, mommy, what is Poppi? So like, you knew what it was about, but was it as memorable as it could have been?
Was it as relevant? I think they could have worked on making it more memorable and making it more relevant.
SAFIAN: The one that was most emotionally effective for me surprisingly was the NFL ad about the kid in Africa.
TRESEDER: Yes, I couldn’t agree more. You know, I really loved the NFL ad shot in Ghana with a little boy. And I thought it was really great. And the NFL is trying to embrace more of a global audience.
Certainly. The Africa WhatsApp chat groups, which I, which I part of a few were popping as a result of those ads. So I do think that they did a nice job of going to that target audience, reaching them and speaking to them in a way that deeply resonated with them.
Breaking down the Beyoncé ad
SAFIAN: You also brought up earlier the point about demographics and like who you’re trying to speak to because some of the brands, you know, I’m looking at whatever, the Mountain Dew ad. And I know they’re not really targeting me, right? Cause I’m not, I’m not their target audience, but then I’m looking at the BMW ad with Christopher Walken and I’m asking my kids, like, do you know who Christopher Walken is, right?
And they’re like, oh yeah, he was the guy in Wedding Crashers, which is not the way I remember him, but yes, he was in that movie, right?
TRESEDER: Yeah, exactly. And that’s why I said, you have to think about who’s your target audience, and is this person really going to resonate with that target audience? That’s also going to play a factor in who gets the return on investment, because if you clicked, but not with the right people, then, you know, maybe that expands your market, but maybe it doesn’t.
I do have to say as a Beyonce fan, I absolutely love the Beyonce spot. Now, I was watching, you know, with other members of my family who are maybe not as big Beyonce fans as myself, my husband, you know, and so I have to say, you know, I was watching him as I was watching myself and I said, I gotta be objective here.
Look, I think that the ad was actually excellent for Beyonce because she just dropped new music. It was a very mutually beneficial situation. In fact, I had so many of my girlfriends texting me and they were like, Dara, we are country music fans now.
She did a really nice job of leaning into something that made sense for her. And, you know, I think Verizon also, right.
The fact that they got Beyonce in their ad is in itself a statement because she is not the kind of celebrity who appears in a lot of ads, right? And so the fact that you can land her in your ad in itself is memorable.
SAFIAN: Well, I love the way, as a celebrity that she used the ad for her own purposes.
TRESEDER: Yes, she did.
SAFIAN: In the same way that Taylor Swift, you know, winning at the Grammys used it as an opportunity for herself. She’s like, if I’m going to fly all the way from Asia for this, I’m going to let everybody know I got a new album coming out.
TRESEDER: Exactly. Exactly. It’s like a mutually beneficial situation — two very smart, accomplished women. You know, the years off to a great start.
Differentiating your personal views from your brand views
SAFIAN: Are you excited about the year ahead as a marketer or with all of the political backdrop, are you like, I just got to watch where I step that much more?
TRESEDER: I wish we could all focus more on what unites us than what divides us, you know, but the reality is for any big business, you are going to have customers, employees, and partners on both sides of the aisle.
And so, as a brand, you know, especially as a marketer, you have to remember that your personal views cannot be your brand views. And I think that is something that sometimes people struggle with, but you have to, you have to be able to be objective and you have to make sure that you are truly being inclusive and truly being inclusive means focusing on what unites us and embracing all of your customers.
Right, now, I’m not saying as a brand, if there’s something that’s deeply core to your value, you’re going to shy away from that. For example, for us at Autodesk, sustainability is something that is a core part of who we are, right?
But there are other myriad of topics that don’t make sense for us. And so we’re not going to be in those conversations.
SAFIAN: I’m curious, as a leader these days, there’s the imperative, at least said all the time, bring your full self to work, be more transparent about who you are. But at the same time, you can’t really bring everything because maybe some of those things aren’t the things that the brand stands for, right?
TRESEDER: So look, I agree. I have always said this, by the way, I have been like, I do not bring my whole self to work. There are parts of Dara that you at work do not need to see. I’m gonna leave them at home for my husband and my kids, right? You know, the part that I bring to work is, I do want to bring my authentic self, right?
I want to bring the best parts of myself. I want to bring and be an empathetic leader, you know, but the reality is all of us have personal views and personal opinions, because we are humans. And it is really important that at work, we are objective and that we are as much as possible, not using our own personal agenda to determine what drives a strategy in our business, right?
So look, hey, I think you need to bring a good part of yourself to work, but there are probably parts you need to keep at home. And I think it’s, I think the smartest thing as a leader you could do is figure out what those parts are that need to be at home and keep them at home.
SAFIAN: So San Francisco lost the game.
TRESEDER: Oh, devastating, devastating, devastating.
SAFIAN: I know. For the brand of San Francisco versus the brand of Kansas City, as cities, does winning these games matter? How does that play out?
TRESEDER: You know, I really, really, really wanted San Francisco to win. I can’t even tell you, I threw a Super Bowl party. I don’t usually throw Super Bowl parties. My whole family, we were dressed to go to San Francisco 49ers, and we had gone to church earlier that day. And it was so funny because everybody was dressed in the San Francisco 49ers costume.
San Francisco has had such a trying time, right? Lots of, we’ve gotten a little bit of a bad rep lately and you know, I felt like this was our chance to sort of start our comeback narrative. And so, that last 10 seconds of overtime with the Chiefs winning, my son came, mommy, we lost. But I think we needed it more than the Chiefs, but you know, I like Taylor Swift, you know, I’m a, I’m a fan of the whole thing. So, you know, we cried a little bit then we got ourselves together. We look at Taylor and Travis happy on the field and we’re like, okay. All is well.
SAFIAN: Well, Dara, this has been great. This has been great. Thank you for doing this. I really appreciate it.
TRESEDER: Well, thank you so much for having me, Bob. This was such a blast. There’s nothing more fun as a marketer than getting a chance to kind of debrief. So thank you.
SAFIAN: I always have fun talking to Dara, not just because she speaks her mind, but because she’s such a disciplined thinker when it comes to business. It is so easy for all of us to get caught up in emotion, to measure ourselves against others, to want to win at all costs. But there’s a right time and a wrong time to act. Business is a long game, and having a game plan that adapts as conditions change — and improves when you hit overtime — that’s what ultimately succeeds. I’m Bob Safian. Thanks for listening.