What Makes a Good Commercial? Advertising Tips from the Big Game

Even those of us who don’t know football from pickleball are interested in the winners and losers of game day ads. Year after year, some brands hit it out of the park, er, we mean run it into the end zone. Others fall flat and never come back. Below we unpack what makes a good commercial on game day, and how to apply what makes an ad memorable on game day to what makes your small business memorable every day. Tips for what makes a good commercial inform what makes your promotional piece stand out above the rest. Ready, set, let’s dive in and get that ring! 

Why We Pay So Much Attention to Big Game Ads

Of course, advertising during the Big Game does have what would appear, at first glance, to be unique characteristics. Below we review three features of Big Game ads and how they do (or don’t) apply to your small business:   

  • Cost: When it comes to game day, we know someone paid a bunch of money to talk to us (this year, about $7 million1). So we listen. And judge. If they fail, we remember. If they succeed, we celebrate. But even the most unremarkable game day ad gets a nod simply due to context. It’s adjacent to the most watched sporting event of the year. It’s mixed in with all of our highest and lowest emotions. The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. And oh my, here’s an ad for motor oil. But notice that the winning game day ads are for products and services (cars, computers, snacks) where nearly everyone watching could be a customer. Small Business Application: Don’t pay for access beyond your target audience. For instance, if your offering is very niche, such as vegan pizza for kids under 12, paying to hit a mass market isn’t advised. Don’t distribute your finest stainless steel tumbler to an off-target lookie-loo at your trade show booth, when a less expensive stadium cup will do just fine.
  • Excitement: For many fans, nothing’s more exciting than game day. There’s a buzz in the air and every brand that can, wants to be part of the good vibes. Small Business Application: Adrenaline rubs off and when the event is exciting, the sheen covers your brand as well. Pick fun events that are directly related to your small business and distribute custom gifts that attach your name to the high energy.
  • Crowd: With an estimated viewership of 208 million2 (over 60%of the country), there’s an instant “in style” element to any brand that’s in that spotlight. Small Business Application: If you’re advertising at a star-studded event, some of that glitter is bound to rub off on your brand. Choose events that will draw a crowd (comprised of your target audience, of course), and show up with your best foot forward (custom giveaways are a must).

3 Winning Big Game Ads and What We Can Learn

Below are three Big Game commercials that are considered among the very best. We summarized the magic behind the wins and how the takeaways can be applied to customized gifts for your small business: 

1. Thanks for the Laughs

Example: Hyundai – “Smaht Pahk” 

This car commercial uses actors known for their sense of humor and accessibility to make us feel connected to the understated Hyundai® brand. The ad pokes fun at the “local” Boston accent while introducing a cool new feature of the car (self-parking!). A brand without pretense inspires a uniquely loyal following.  

Tips for Small Business Branding:  

Know who you are and how you compare to the competition. Not every consumer wants the flashiest product or service. More and more, consumers want reliability, dependability, and a personal connection with the real people behind the brand. If this sounds like your small business, consider a sense of humor in your advertising, including your promotional merchandise: 

  • Eccentricity Sells: Got an eccentric employee who’s loved by your regulars? Highlight them in your next ad campaign.
  • Embrace the Odd: Like the Boston accent that makes the Big Game car ad lighthearted, is there something funny or idiosyncratic about your business or team? Attach is to your brand. A favorite local dentist has a rock and roll themed office. Dental patients can be anxious, and rock and roll brings an off-topic, whimsical angle to a day in the chair.

2. We’ve All Been There

Example: Google – “Parisian Love” 

This game day ad starts off with a google search, which feels at first like the googler’s midway through a solo lunch break, killing time online.  Visually, this commercial comes to us from the angle of the viewer (that would be us) and is immediately relatable due to the searching activity we all do daily. As the story starts to develop, we find ourselves intrigued, charmed, and impressed. Not only are the perspective and story arc flawless, the timing coincides with Valentine’s Day (as does game day). Ah, shucks!  

Tips for Small Business Branding:  

Connect with your customers by identifying common ground. Leverage widely celebrated holidays to advance your business through promotional giveaways that are seasonally-themed. Reference common goals or struggles and attach them to what you offer.  

  • Solutions at Tax Time: For a tax prep business, the approach could be: “We know tax time is full of stress. And questions. We have answers (and stress balls).”
  • A Bright Side to Long Lines: For a line-driven business like the grocery store or DMV, the connection could be: “We hate lines, too. If you’re in ours for more than 5 minutes, you’ll get a doodle pad to pass the time.”

3. Do the Right Thing

Example: Apple – “1984” 

Risky business, but so brilliant it worked. This commercial is ahead of its time, visionary—about to upset the proverbial applecart. Apple® succeeded in making your IT decisions a choice between good and evil (with Apple on the good side, of course). Few can pull it off, but all of us can take a tip from this masterpiece, widely considered the most successful (and memorable) commercial of all time, and apply it to a promotional piece: Stand as close as you can get to goodness.  

Tip for Small Business Branding: If you can’t attach your brand to the umbrella of altruism itself (tricky business even for a non-profit!), at least consider the branding benefits of responsible sourcing. Pick a promotional product that’s made of recycled plastic, sustainable cotton, or responsibly sourced paper.  

Pick Promotional Products that Have Big Game Ad Appeal

How can we translate what makes an ad memorable to where and how you promote your small business with promotional merchandise? 

  • Give When Spirits are High: Distribute promotional gifts at celebrations and special events. If you bring promotional items to a trade show, hand them out at your booth but also at social hours and networking events.
  • Attach the Gift to a Milestone: On game day, when our team wins we feel we do, too. Maybe you’ve been in business for 10 years, or maybe your youngest kid just graduated college and is now part of the family business. Whatever the case, engage your team and your customers in honoring major milestones so they feel part of the win.
  • Make It Memorable: Though it’s true that even the most unforgettable game day ad makes an impression, the goal (er, field goal?), of course, is to achieve Hyundai® or Apple® level branding impact. Use bright colors, elegant detailing, and sustainable materials to rise above the noise. Here are a few examples:

Soft Touch Diamond Stylus Pen with Rose Gold Trim: Silver barrel rings, rose gold trim, knurled grip, and the trendiest barrel colors. Could this be the touch-down of promotional pens? 

9 oz. Julian Stainless Steel Tumbler: Whatever name’s on the front of this tumbler (why not make it yours?), it’s bound to get a second glance. Surprisingly small, with all the right trimmings including a bamboo lid and powder-coated finish, this cappuccino or cocktail size tumbler is far too compelling to go unnoticed.    

Bodhi RPET Backpack: They can’t take it to the big game (use this one instead) but they sure can sport it around town, school, gym, and work. It’s made from recycled plastic (usually water bottles) so your recipients feel like game day champs wearing it (and your logo) everywhere.   

What Makes a Good Commercial Makes Your Custom Giveaway Good, Too

This game day, look at the commercials with your own small business in mind. What works for the seven-million-dollar ads can work for you, too, but for a lot less coin. Apply the aspects that ring true to you, when you customize your next giveaway. We see your team winning big this season!  


  1. https://adage.com/article/special-report-super-bowl/super-bowl-2023-commercial-time-95-sold-out-fox/2428261
  2. https://www.nfl.com/news/super-bowl-lvi-total-viewing-audience-estimated-at-over-208-million#:~:text=Super%20Bowl%20LVI%20total%20viewing%20audience%20estimated%20at%20over%20208%20million
Karleen Wise Andersen

From marketing tips to product recommendations, I’m here to help small businesses be their best.

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