How Budweiser’s Classic Super Bowl Commercials Can Help Your Small Business Today

In tough economic times, bringing in more first-time buyers and keeping more customers is mission critical, especially for small business.  Super Bowl commercials can really help – if you understand them.  These are the best – and most expensive – commercials on television.  Since they cost so much, big companies and top ad agencies work hard to produce effective commercials that generate lots of business.  Here’s one key make-or-break lesson from a classic series of commercials.

Budweiser Clydesdales by Paul Keleher from Mass, US via Wikimedia Commons

CBS recently rated the Budweiser Clydesdale ad, “Brotherhood” as the top Super Bowl Commercial of All Time.  Its story of the bond between trainer and horse pulled viewers’ heart strings.  Another Anheuser-Busch classic ad, “Puppy Love” made the Top 20 Superbowl Commercials list.  The beermaker spent millions to tell the story of a cute puppy adopted by Budweiser’s iconic Clydesdales.  It must have brought in sales – Budweiser ran “Puppy Love” Super Bowl ads for 4 years straight.

None of these “feel-good” ads even mentioned the product they were selling – beer.  So why did Anheuser-Busch spend millions producing and airing them?  Understanding why they work can help improve your business – and help you avoid inadvertently hurting it.

Anheuser-Busch’s Puppy and Pavlov’s Dogs

The classic “Brotherhood” and “Puppy Love” Budweiser ads tapped into a fact first revealed by the famous Pavlov’s dogs:  For canines (and humans), feelings generated by one experience rub off onto everything else they experience at the same time.  Super Bowl viewers saw heartwarming stories of a cute puppy and Budweiser’s famous Clydesdales.  All those warm feelings got transferred to the Budweiser logo that appeared at the end of the ad.  It must have worked – Anheuser-Busch kept using this theme for years in incredibly expensive Super Bowl ads.

There’s some important science behind this strategy.  In one classic study, Russian social psychologist Ivan Pavlov rang a bell every time he brought meat to his dogs.  The meat made them salivate.  Soon, Pavlov could get his dogs to salivate just as much by only ringing the bell.  In the same way, couples experience old romantic feelings when “They’re playing our song.”  They fell in love while hearing that song.  Hearing it again can automatically trigger those feelings.

Psychologists call this phenomenon Classical Conditioning.  It appears to be hard-wired into the brain.  Conditioning prospects and customers to like your business can bring in lots of sales.  Conditioning them to dislike your business can drive them away.

Customers get conditioned automatically

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Dogs and customers respond to good experiences

Science proved that classical conditioning happens automatically – to animals and people.  Isn’t that the way you train a dog?  If he does what he’s supposed to, he gets praise and a treat.  If he misbehaves, he gets a scolding – and no treat.  Dogs like treats and praise and dislike scolding.  So, your dog soon learns how to behave.

Whether you realize it or not, every contact with your business conditions how your customers feel about your company.  Anheuser-Busch’s commercials generated good feelings – and directly attached them to the Budweiser brand.  So, when people who don’t have a strong brand preference decide to enjoy a brew, they’re more likely to choose Budweiser.  It must work.  Anheuser-Busch used this strategy for years at the Super Bowl – America’s most expensive time slot.

Well-conceived commercials are not the only thing that can help people associate good feelings with your business.  Great customer service can as well.  When customers have a great experience at your store, website, medical practice or restaurant, their minds automatically link good feelings with your business. This can turn a one-time purchaser into a regular customer.

Bad customer experiences can make “Pavlov’s dogs bite”

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Feelings – good or bad – stick to your brand

The emotions we experience with products or businesses get automatically attached to that brand.  Imagine the effect that bad – really bad – experiences can have.  For instance, retailers that dramatically raised prices during the pandemic recession made themselves look like profiteers – and turned customers off.

A large pharmacy chain raised prices for over-the-counter items.  They regularly send out 30% off coupons that are nearly impossible to use.  These coupons don’t work with any product “on sale.”  But many products are marked, “Buy one – get one 40% off.”  If you only need one, you can’t use the 30% off coupon that drove you to the store because the item’s “on sale.”  If you’re like me, you just feel irritated – and go somewhere else.

Remember the commercial that showed a customer waiting for hours trying to get through to a bank or retailer by phone, repeating the word “representative”?  It showed exactly how many consumers feel.  Phone systems that make it hard to get through may save companies on payroll, but they probably lose customers.

Marketing research revealed that lesser-known insurers can actually outperform nationally advertised companies if their ecommerce websites are significantly easier to use.  The best advertising in the world cannot make up for a bad customer experience.

The most cost-effective small business marketing on earth

Giving customers a great experience doesn’t have to cost much.  A friendly, helpful representative who willingly listens to customers doesn’t cost any more than an impatient or surly one.  But the effect on customer experience can be huge.  Before Avis Rent-a-Car began its legendary “When you’re number 2, you try harder” campaign, its ad agency insisted that Avis make sure they really were delivering better customer service.  That was the only way the campaign would work.  Avis was.  This campaign delivered a lot of new clients.

Wise business owners make a great customer experience a top priority.  It can turn shoppers into regular customers.  It will maximize the value of any advertising you do.  Why not be like Budweiser and make Pavlov’s dog part of your business team?

customer service, business psychology, small business marketing
Truly helpful customer service doesn’t cost more – it creates more loyal customers

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