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The Empathy Bowl: Why the Super Bowl Ads Made Customers Emotional

This year’s Super Bowl commercials were all about the feels. Advertisers abandoned their usual glorified demonstrations of aspiration and idealization for inspiration – through real-life emotional connection.

The MVP of the Empathy Bowl? “Like A Girl,” a commercial for Procter & Gamble’s Always feminine care brand. The ad’s brilliance is that it shoves the biases women – young girls, especially – encounter daily in all our faces, then flips them around 180 degrees in a confessional-style display of profound understanding of the human condition. What does it mean to “run like a girl?” a little girl is asked at the end of the spot. “It means run fast as you can,” she says.

The inspiration for “Like A Girl” was drawn from a universal issue that so many women deal with, yet few ever publicly discuss: as they confront puberty, many girls experience a huge dip in self-confidence. “That deep consumer insight and understanding made us really step back and think, ‘What are the things that really contribute to that and how can we make a difference?'” says Fama Francisco, vice president of Global Always.

Likewise, McDonald’s, which is building further upon its customer-centric transformation, embraced empathy in the form of – what else? – lovin’. The “Pay with Lovin'” spot features a promotion that allows people to pay for their food with hugs and kind words instead of money, and shows McDonald’s customers experiencing the promotion in-store.


Clearly, the ad isn’t meant to persuade customers with traditional images of juicy burgers and crispy fries. What makes this spot so powerful is the idea that hugs, compassion, kind words, family, and taking a moment to smile and laugh together all have tangible value. “There’s a lot that goes on in the world and if a brand like ours can really come across and provide those good moments, provide that delight, that treat and that excitement, that’s what we should be doing for our customers,” says McDonald’s CMO Deborah Wahl.

Good moments and delight get people talking and, just maybe for McDonald’s, seeing your brand in a new light. “What we’re looking for is to have a unique conversation with America,” Wahl says. “The Super Bowl is the best platform to do it. It’s the best way to reach customers and create a dialogue that’s never been done before.”

From the notion that your children might not live to experience life’s key milestones (thanks for that downer moment, Nationwide) to the leap your heart takes when a lost puppy makes it home thanks to the Budweiser Clydesdales, emotion and sentiment were pouring out of nearly every pixel of this year’s Super Bowl commercials. Only time will tell what the business impact of these spots will be, but, if the Always and McDonald’s ads are any indication, I’d place my bets on customer empathy.


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