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Crowdfunding for Social Good

Devin D. Thorpe

Devin Thorpe

Super Bowl Commercials Teach Important Lessons For Crowdfunding

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

I’m probably not alone. According to a 2010 study, Super Bowl viewers enjoy the commercials more than game. While that wasn’t likely true in last night’s nail-biter, I was still focused on the commercials, especially the lessons crowdfunders can learn from them.

Crowdfunding videos are at heart commercials for a campaign. The video that drives a crowdfunding campaign has always been an important part of a campaign. The standard for what makes an acceptable campaign video is rising. If you are interested in what makes a great video for a crowdfunding campaign, watching commercials from the Super Bowl is not a bad idea.

I found three commercials that have particular relevance for crowdfunding, especially for cause-oriented campaigns.

1. Budweiser 2018 Super Bowl Commercial | “Stand By You”

This one-minute ad, my favorite for 2018, features a syrupy dose of emotion that is familiar in Budweiser’s Super Bowl ads. Evoking that sort of emotion can be important to some crowdfunding campaigns, especially those advocating for a cause.

First, the ad cautiously established a sense of urgency and disaster. Notably, this didn’t require images of flooding, fires, dead bodies, naked children or anything of the sort. A phone call in the middle of the night, a little radio voiceover drew us in quickly to the story in the first 12 seconds.

Second, the video conveys a sense of sacrifice, but the ad is careful not to overplay its hand. Kevin Fahrenkrog, general manager of the Cartersville Brewery, leaves home in the middle of the night, stops the line—after confirming the plant was meeting its target orders—and starts producing water. The ad put Fahrenkrog at home for dinner that night, reminding viewers that he didn’t sacrifice too much.

Third, the video captures the scale and speed of the response. The plant is quickly switched over from producing beer to producing canned water for the response. Lots of water. The production line marches cans like tin soldiers going off to fight the disaster that are packed into cases, loaded by dancing forklifts onto to trucks and sent quickly to give relief.

The music for the ad sets the tone. For crowdfunders this represents a dilemma. Buying the rights to use a popular song can be tricky and expensive. Over the years, I’ve purchased almost 100 royalty free music tracks to use in my videos. Buying dozens at a time for less than $100 makes it feasible but I’m never going to get “Stand by Me” so easily or inexpensively.

All these elements combine to hit the mark for many if not most people. Let’s recognize that some people won’t connect for a variety of reasons, but many will. That’s your goal with a crowdfunding video–connect with many, not all.

Budweiser was cautious not to makes the company the hero of a story that involves people risking their lives to fight fires and rescue people from floods. You are wise to follow their example. In a crowdfunding video, you’ll want to go one step further and look to make your backers—past and future—the heroes of the video.

2. Winter Olympics Best of U.S. | Mikaela Shiffrin Super Bowl Ad

This NBC ad for the Olympics featuring Mikaela Shiffrin wasn’t my favorite ad for the Olympics (that meaningless distinction goes to the Lindsey Vonn ad) but it has a great story that I think offers easier lessons for crowdfunders.

In this video, Olympian Mikaela Shiffrin is depicted as a young girl getting an autograph from three-time Olympian Heidi Voelker who signed it, “Dream big, Mikaela, and always be faster than the boys.” Shiffrin adopted that as a guiding principle in life that helped lead her to the Olympics. The message is repeated several times in the one-minute spot, sometimes with the initials A.B.F.T.T.B.

This ad doesn’t resonate with everyone. On YouTube the video has 372 likes and 134 thumbs down votes as of this writing. Some are presumably put off by the feminist message.

With that note, the video does seem to connect with its target audience: women. Make a crowdfunding video that appeals to a target audience, even at the risk of offending or simply failing to connect with people outside a target will make sense for some campaigns, especially those for politically charged issues.

Note that the theme of the video, A.B.F.T.T.B. is repeated three times on screen and the storyline that develops centers on her beating the boys. The simple message gives the video power in the same way that repeating a clear, simple message in a crowdfunding video will help move people to donate.

For people who are working with and even embracing complexity, it is a challenge to simplify a message and preserve the essential truth of a story but that should be your goal.

3. ETRADE Super Bowl Commercial 2018 “This Is Getting Old”

This commercial for E-Trade featuring 85-year-olds still working ostensibly because they lacked retirement plans makes fun of a serious problem. For me, the commercial worked perfectly to focus my attention on my inadequate retirement plans and preparations. This was the most humorous of the three videos.

Humor is difficult for professionals to write. How many times have you watched a late-night talk show host tell a joke that flopped? Almost every night there is a joke that flops. These are people paid millions of dollars per year to tell jokes. Be careful when using humor in your crowdfunding video. Screen your video with a small group of people who will be honest with you, preferably strangers, before foisting your sketch humor on the crowdfunding marketplace.

Still, if you can pull off humor, you can expect to see the crowdfunding thermometer rise.

Note, too, that the video spent 57 seconds establishing the problem to be solved and then set out the solution in the last three seconds. This worked only to the extent that the humor kept your attention for the full 57 seconds that led you to the three seconds of solution. Think of it as a big bowl of ice cream for dinner followed by one floret of broccoli. If you fill up on ice cream before it’s finished, you’ll never get to the broccoli.

Finally, let’s look at a fourth commercial that missed the mark to see what lessons we can derive from the mistake.

Official Ram Trucks Super Bowl Commercial | Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. | Built to Serve

Click here to view.

The ad is powerful and my initial reaction was positive. The Martin Luther King, Jr. speech was inspiring but even before the ad concluded it began to feel creepy seeing the commercial images of Dodge trucks interspersed in the video. You and I know that King would not have done the commercial if asked and almost certainly wouldn’t have been asked in his lifetime to do the commercial.

Fans of MLK on Twitter have been particularly unforgiving. The King Center quickly tweeted a disavowal of the ad. The irony of using the speech they did is that a portion of the very same speech decried the practice of spending too much on a vehicle.

Cause-oriented leaders will be tempted to use quotes from Gandhi, MLK, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and even Ronald Reagan to support their causes. When the cause you advocate for is one that your hero advocated for, there is unlikely to be an issue with your audience. If you use words, imagery and/or recordings of such people to promote anything they didn’t, you risk not only alienating your audience but also potential legal action.

It might be tempting to use an image or quote of Gandhi in a campaign promoting poverty eradication using goats, but he was a strict vegetarian and would not likely have supported such an approach. Be careful to align your message with the messenger.

In 2018, everyone in the crowdfunding world is a videographer. Watching Super Bowl commercials for hints to what is effective in making a compelling short video is a good idea.

Hundreds of nonprofits learned to successfully use online fundraising to reach–or surpass–their goals with my crowdfunding training. Get my free guide to attracting media attention.

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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at!

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