For 364 days out of the year, commercials are an annoyance. On Super Bowl Sunday, they’re a cultural phenomenon. That’s why brands were happy to shell out roughly $7 million to get in front of 123 million people for 30 seconds during Super Bowl LVIII. 

Having a Super Bowl ad is a pipedream for most startup marketers, but fear not — we’ve distilled roughly $500 million in ad spend into six startup marketing-sized takeaways that you can start implementing in your own efforts right now. (No big budget or giant team needed!) 

B2B in the Big Leagues

Global workforce payment startup Papaya Global’s ad made headlines before the big game, and their strategy ticked all the major marketing boxes: they supported the ad with a solid landing page, a press release, an ebook, a demo request form, and scored a write up in TechCrunch. But still, everything revolved around their $7 million moment. 

As our CEO Morgan McLintic pointed out, Papaya Global’s team knew this one-shot would be audience wastage going into it, as only a tiny portion of the audience needs the solution. But the goal wasn’t lead gen, but rather to show what our FiredUp! friend Rick Robinson calls “proof of life” in an increasingly competitive category. While we would argue that that $7 million would have likely been better spent on smaller awareness campaigns throughout the entire year, we admire Papaya Global’s ambition in going where their competitors aren’t. 

The Startup Marketing-Sized Lesson: Brand building and awareness are a marathon, not a sprint. Invest your budget into strong, sustained efforts through the year, but also pay close attention to the rest of your funnel so all of that awareness leads to a great buyer journey.

Cybersecurity company CrowdStrike returned to the big game for a second consecutive year with a cowboys vs. robots-style spot that showcased how they protect businesses from even the most futuristic of threats. While we don’t know how many organizations choose their cybersecurity vendor based on a Super Bowl ad, we appreciate the creativity in taking a topic as serious and facts-driven as cybersecurity and presenting it in a way that engages the imagination.

The Startup Marketing-Sized Lesson: Don’t be afraid to use imagery and metaphors in your content. Sometimes, contextualizing what you do by comparing it to something else makes it easier for your prospects to understand and find the value in your products or services.

The ad from HR and workforce management solutions provider UKG won’t land on any “Best Of” lists. In fact, if you searched for ”UKG” on Monday, it wasn’t their ad that popped up in the results but rather a bunch of articles about how 16 million US workers will call in sick to work with the “Super Bowl Flu.” The source? UKG’s own survey data. 

While conducting original research can be costly, it’s mere peanuts compared to the price of a Super Bowl ad. And yet, data offers stellar ROI for B2B startup teams under pressure to grab attention from journalists, lead the market with unique points of view, and tell thought-provoking stories. 

The Startup Marketing-Sized Lesson: Investing in exclusive research is often much more valuable than trying to keep up with the Joneses. 

Bring on the Disruptors!

Both B2C and B2B startups often face their own David-and-Goliath battle with industry giants with tons of name recognition, and this year a soda startup called Poppi proved it can be done thanks to good ol’ product differentiation. Compared to the ads put out by category giants such as Starry, Dr. Pepper, and Mountain Dew, Poppi’s was totally different because their healthy soda is totally different. In just 30 seconds, Poppi made it abundantly clear who they are, why they’re different, how they intend to change their industry, and what customers should think of them.

The Startup Marketing-Sized Lesson: Taking time to align your team on corporate and product value propositions and differentiators is crucial for every-sized startup. Then, you can generate maximum impact by putting those differentiators at center stage in your campaigns. 

Learning from the Big Guys 

Ben Affleck led a parade of stars for Dunkin’ Donuts, and David and Victoria Beckham poked fun at themselves for Uber Eats, but you don’t need an expensive roster of mega-celebrities to be memorable. Make your customers the stars instead! Showcasing them in case studies and testimonials tells a much more compelling, impactful, and memorable story than the 30-second laugh a celebrity might get in an ad, and can go a long way in attracting new customers and building your brand’s reputation.

The Startup Marketing-Sized Lesson: Always have customer case studies and testimonials on your to-do list. Their stories are invaluable proof points that add massive credibility to your marketing efforts. 

Last but not least, we have Google and Microsoft, who both came to the big game with emotional appeals. Rather than focusing on the specs of their Pixel smartphone, Google used their minute-long spot to demonstrate how the phone’s AI-powered Guided Frame feature helps the vision-impaired take photos. Microsoft showcased Copilot with an ad that starts off with a series of negative sentiments before showing how Copilot helps overcome these exact hurdles. 

Google’s ad wasn’t just selling phones, but rather the sense of independence it can give anyone who wants to capture life’s special moments on their phone. Microsoft’s ad sold feelings of inspiration and achievement instead of software. Both prove that even the biggest tech giants know how much emotion plays into buying decisions. 

The Startup Marketing-Sized Lesson: B2B buyers are people, too. Product specs are great and necessary, but showing a customer how you’re going to remove their pressures, make their lives easier, or give them a win to take back to their C-suite can be a powerful emotional appeal that closes the deal. 

Bravo to those who crushed their Super Bowl ads, and thanks for the inspiration that the rest of us can draw on for the rest of the year. Speaking of the rest of the year, we deliver the latest startup marketing trends and insights to inboxes every month, so subscribe to our newsletter, The Forge.

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