Tim Tebow, Superbowl Ads, and Dumb Focus Groups

Tim Tebow and His MomI’m going to put my “marketing” hat on for a second.

I watched a news segment on a popular morning show today. Some marketer came on the show and shared how they used a focus group to determine what ads shown during the Superbowl this year were the most successful.

There’s just one problem with that: The focus group voted on the commercials that they liked.

They asked members of the group to use a nifty piece of equipment to indicate which ones were the funniest and most amusing.

And that’s the problem with advertising today: People don’t buy what they laugh at.

People buy what they want to buy, what they believed was the best before they ever turned on the TV.

A commercial can’t change someone’s mind. It can only adopt their worldview and convince them of what they already know to be true. Sounds crazy, but when’s the last time a commercial made you believe something you didn’t already want to believe?

I’m not going to eat Dorito’s, because a dog put a bark collar on some guy. I’m not going to buy a Snickers, because Betty White made me laugh. And I hate to say it, but I’m not going to listen to Focus on the Family, because I saw Tim Tebow tackle his mom.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the Superbowl commercials as much as the next guy, but I found it absurd that the focus group labeled the most popular commercials as the “most successful” ones. They actually began the segment by saying something along the lines of: “We know that these spots cost at least $3 million; so, how do you know which ones are worth it?”

Let’s just save everyone the hassle of having to do a focus group: None of them were worth it. Not if you were measuring laughs and likability. People don’t buy what they like. They buy what they know, what they trust.

Effective storytellers and motivators know that a commercial or an ad is an investment. You use those thirty seconds best when they’re invested in entering a person’s world and building trust with them. You reinforce the impression you’ve already made on this person and use it somehow to your advantage. That’s why Jack-in-in-the-Box ads constantly confuse me; they’re always about some new menu item that isn’t a hamburger. What is it that they exactly serve there, any way? Oh, right… everything. No thanks.

Now, to get political… I didn’t “get” the Tim Tebow segment. I didn’t even realize that it was a pro-life commercial. And I’m a Christian. I seriously had no idea. And when I went to the Focus on the Family website to listen to the whole story about how the Tebows didn’t abort “Little Timmy,” I still didn’t get it. During the whole segment, they used Christianese (that’s the language for Christian subculture, by the way) and expressions that only evangelicals would understand. I didn’t find the segment offensive, but I wondered what they were trying to accomplish by spending $3 million on a 30-second spot during the Superbowl.

Who were they trying to reach? If I were a young, unwed mother considering abortion (or an older wed one, even), it wouldn’t have related to me.

Keeping in mind that this was paid for by a Christian organization, wouldn’t it have been better if they had talked about forgiveness for women who have had abortions? Wouldn’t it have been better to share a message that most people already could relate to?

Wouldn’t it have been better to talk less about preaching and more about the struggle Tim’s mother faced as a confused woman? Wouldn’t it have been great to spend 30 seconds sharing the struggles of being human, instead of trying to be funny and serious at the same time?

Wouldn’t that have been great advertising? Wouldn’t that have been truly amazing marketing that told a compelling story, instead of just stirring up controversy?

I think so.

Just because someone is talking about you doesn’t mean that you’ve made a difference.


7 Comments on “Tim Tebow, Superbowl Ads, and Dumb Focus Groups”

  1. adam mclane says:

    I think Focus just dropped $3 million on an ad to tell people “we don’t have a clue how to talk to the average American. So are just throwing money at our communication problem.”

    I mean, seriously. What did they accomplish? The ad was not funny, not serious… it just wasn’t any good. It didn’t tell a single thing about them or how Focus can help a family.

    I was left wondering… “I don’t know whose family Focus is focusing on these days.”

    My hope for Focus is that they didn’t just blow $3 million on an ad that they couldn’t afford. I hope they don’t have to lay off staff like they did when they partnered with LDS (and a bunch of other weird bedfellows) to join a bunch of outsiders to pass Prop 8 in CA.

    I was embarrassed for Focus, Tim Tebow, and the people who stood up to defend FOTF’s right to have an ad during the Super Bowl.

  2. sara says:

    i think $3 million bought them not just air-time during the super-bowl but press-coverage before the ad was even aired. it succeeded in getting writers from espn.com and the washington post to respond – in defense of the ad airing, not necessarily to the views expressed therein – to opponents of the ad’s airing. it’s strange, having read these articles, i knew not to expect an overt pro-life/anti-abortion message, but i nearly missed the ad entirely, the “pro-family” theme was so thinly veiled. having said that, i agree, jeff; i think a message of redemption and forgiveness would’ve been far radical in an even better way.

    what got my attention was the ad of children in a classroom pledging allegiance to america’s debt. the “non-profit” think tank that’s listed as having sponsored the message is, per wikipedia, just a front group by a lobbying firm. said firm allegedly has been lobbying against health-care reform. that was an ad fail, in my book.

    and last two thoughts 1) those godaddy.com ads are so annoying. makes me think that it’s got a monopoly on domain names, how else could they afford to buy that much air-time AND recruit the likes of danica patrick?
    2) men traipsing about sans pants in an ad for an apparel company. i like the irony but not that much. i think dockers ads from past years were better, particularly the one where the dude is like jason bourne, zipping in and out of all kinds of precarious situations but the pants remain immaculate. THAT made me want to wear their pants. seeing men march about in their briefs, not so much.

    (wow, sorry, that’s really long. if it’s too much, you can delete it and i’ll just post it as a blog response)

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Goins, sara choe. sara choe said: RT @jeff_goins: This post will probably get my in trouble. I didn't "get" the Tim Tebow Superbowl ad: http://su.pr/1hUTsi // anti-climactic […]

  4. Julius says:


    The only reason I’d be inclined to commercials and ads is if they’re offering something I need. That’s why these campaigns are aimed at the masses. It’s a numbers game. The more people they reach, the better their chances of attracting an audience. The best solution to avoid falling victim is to turn off your t.v., computer, and radio, and don’t read newspapers and magazine. Let’s see how long you’ll last. If you can’t do it that way, just play along…but make sure you know the rules of the game.


    • Jeff Goins says:

      Good thoughts, Julius. However, my concern is raised when marketers use ads to make people think they need something they actually don’t want. That’s not the “game”; it’s manipulation.

  5. Julius says:

    Hi Jeff,

    What you say is very true. It is manipulation, especially if you are not carried away by the strategies these advertisers use. It is persuasion/seduction when you are swept off your feet and buy whatever they are selling you. It is a unique play with words and psychology. From the pulpits of our churches and government, to the tiniest morsel of food you put in your mouth, we are seduced/persuaded/manipulated by others to take certain action towards something or someone. This is why I am always mindful of the rules of the game of seduction/persuasion/manipulation. It saves me a lot of heartaches and disappointments in the end.


  6. Noel Levitz says:

    Nice one! If I could write like this I would be well chuffed. The more I read articles of such quality as this (which is rare), the more I think there could be a future for the Web. Keep it up, as it were.

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