Why Jeep’s Super Bowl Ad Made You Wanna Cry

Published: February 9, 2016 / No Comments

Lots of people are talking about the Super Bowl ads this week. But I don’t want to just talk about what I liked, I want to show you what you can steal. Here goes.

First, it’s no secret that storytelling is one of the most powerful marketing tricks in the book. The very best ads are the ones that allow us to be the hero in the story, because we all want to feel like we matter. So when you make your customer into the hero of your story, you tap a fundamental human desire, the desire for meaning. Powerful stuff.

Since Jeep used this heroic principle more explicitly than any other brand ad during the game, it’s a good place to learn how this technique works. In case you missed it, here is the clip:

Why does this ad make you feel so good?

It actively engages your emotional memory bank

The video doesn’t just show a rapidly moving series of faces. It deliberately taps a rich archive of heroic characters already stored in our memory and then associates them with the Jeep brand. Some of the faces and ideas are specific (Jurassic Park, Marilyn Monroe, Aretha Franklin) and others are beloved archetypes (soldiers, dogs, children). As each image flashes by, we instinctively begin to guess who or what the image is. It’s a mental memory game and we want to play it. (Oh yeah, I know that movie! I recognize that singer!) With each moment of recognition, we both “win” the game and are drawn deeper into the story.

It makes the brand personal

The voiceover commences in the first person “I” so that Jeep isn’t merely a brand, but a character telling you its own story. When the narrator says “I’ve seen things no man can bear… from the beaches of Normandy… to the far reaches of the earth” he is demonstrating Jeep’s awareness of its place in our collective history. By the time we hear “In my life, I’ve lived millions of lives” the brand has been transformed in our imaginations into a real character with feelings, and we believe it.

It makes the customer the hero

So when Jeep (the character) concludes the ad by saying, “We don’t make Jeep. You do.” it is the utterly logical conclusion of the story they have built. Even if you’ve never been in a Jeep before, in just 60 seconds you have been persuaded that Jeep has actually been part of your life all along, proven through your very recognition of all the heroic moments in the reel. You can be a hero in this story. All you have to do is buy a Jeep.

That’s great storytelling.

You can use these exact same techniques to tell stories about your own company’s products and services. Engaging the customer. Personalizing the brand. Making the customer the hero. These aren’t accidents, they are deliberate marketing and storytelling choices.

Hang on, I know what you’re thinking.

We make accounting software! It’s too boring to be engaging, or have a hero.

Not so. Let me demonstrate. Perhaps one of the customers using your boring software is the Humane Society. That means all the time and money your software is saving them can now be spent on saving puppies. Let me emphasize this point just to be clear: Your accounting software is not just software. It’s a tool your (heroic) customer uses to save puppies. Everyone loves puppies.

Now that you have puppies on your side, can you think of a way to make your software personal? Of course you can. What has your software “seen” inside the books of all its customers? What stories can that software tell about all the amazing things those businesses are doing? You get the idea.

The point is this: No matter what your product or service is, there are great stories to be told. Stories that make us cry, even when we logically know it’s just an ad. And now you know exactly how to start finding them.



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