Clydesdales, Trains And Beetles: Why Iconic Brand Symbols Work In Super Bowl Ads

Food & Drink

As information trickles out on this year’s Super Bowl ads, it is notable that some major brands, including Budweiser, Coors Light, and Volkswagen are drawing on iconic imagery from their history in order to connect with consumers. This represents solid thinking as images such as the Budweiser Clydesdales, the Coors Light Chill Train, and a 1960s era Volkswagen Beetle offer these advertisers opportunities not available to all brands. With the high investment and stakes associated with a Super Bowl ad it is worth examining potential advantages advertisers gain from using such imagery.

The Super Bowl represents a completely unique property for today’s advertisers. In an era of fragmented media characterized by clutter, 2023’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles drew a record 115 million viewers in the U.S. With such a mass audience watching the game in a festive environment and paying heightened attention to the ads it is not shocking that 30 second spots in this year’s game sold for $7 million.

With such a big audience and high stakes, those powerful brands who have long histories marketing their products in the U.S. are well advised to use historical imagery. There are three good reasons for doing so:

1) Instant Recognition

The use of a longstanding brand symbol brings quick recognition to the brand. Positive associations with the brand’s marketing history are accessed by consumers in a way that also allow the brand to get a message about its unique advantages out to the public.

Budweiser’s recent announcement that the Clydesdales will make a return to the company’s big game ad this year is a great example of how using brand symbolism can be used to good effect. Budweiser’s press release indicates that the spot will deliver, “a timeless message of resilience, determination, and coming together over a beer.” The Budweiser Clydesdales will also be present on the ground in Las Vegas. As the Clydesdales have strong appeal to people from many walks of life, including them in a Super Bowl ad brings widespread and fast recognition.

Like Budweiser, Volkswagen is teasing its ad by emphasizing images of the classic Beetle and Minibus as part of an ad that will emphasize the company’s 75 history. In addition, Coors Light is reintroducing it’s Chill Train in conjunction with a contest and a big game ad focused on football fans and good times.

2) Appealing to a Wide Audience with a Common Message

The ability to reach a huge audience with a Super Bowl is a throwback to the old days of mass media with three or four television networks in which a high percentage of the population would be exposed to the same ads and would, in essence, have the memory of those ads in common. As Super Bowl ads allow the opportunity to reach a wide cross-section of consumers and make an impression not possible in other vehicles, the potential to meet objectives or create a pop culture phenomenon exists. However, a challenge for Super Bowl advertisers is that appealing to the diverse demographic groups watching the Super Bowl is challenging.

In the teaser released for Budweiser’s ad, the Clydesdales show determination and resilience in traveling to the Budweiser Brewery during a blizzard. Budweiser indicates that the main sport will deliver a classic storyline incorporating nostalgic elements and emphasizing the “crisp and refreshing Budweiser.” This is a good example of the use of a brand symbol to get across a message with widespread appeal.

3) Conjuring up nostalgic feelings

With the U.S. facing challenging political times with considerable division and economic challenges, using nostalgic appeals invoked by historic imagery is a good device for invoking good feelings and making consumers receptive to hearing a positive message about a product. While the success of Budweiser’s ad will depend on the specific creative employed and its effectiveness in reinforcing the brand’s benefits and/or image, the use of the Clydesdales is highly advisable as they are instantly recognizable and bring good feelings to most consumers. Their nostalgic image as a brand symbol associated with Americana helps with the ability to deliver a “feel-good” message to consumers that reinforces the brand’s strong history and conjures up images of simpler times. Moreover, it is likely to deflect attention from any recent memory surrounding Budweiser (particularly the Bud Light brand).

Volkswagen’s focus on its classic vehicles also has the ability to bring back good thoughts of what some may think of simpler times while emphasizing the German-based company’s long history in the U.S. This is a unique, but likely very effective type of nostalgic appeal.

The Chill Train for Coors Light, while not as old as the Clydesdales or Volkswagen’s early models, nonetheless, represents a fun symbol from days gone past. While the final ads are not out for any of these three advertisers, I would not bet against them being well received in part due to the inclusion of well known, iconic brand symbols.

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