The 2015 Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks broke the viewership records with around 114 million people tuning in. During the final minutes of the game, some estimates top 120 million. That’s a lot of people interested in a football game.

What else set a record? Super Bowl ads. A 30-second commercial went for $4.5 million in 2015, a new record. If 114 million people are watching a football game, they are also watching those commercials. That’s definitely a captive audience.

As a leader, you may not have 120 million people watching you at one time. But Super Bowl commercials — combined with a little bit of research — can help us enhance our effectiveness as leaders. Here are 3 ways:

1) Harmony

I love one major soda product over the other; most of us do. But such competition can be detrimental to the effectiveness of their Super Bowl ads, according to a study by Stanford researcher Wesley Hartmann and his coauthor Daniel Klapper of Humboldt University Berlin.

They found that when two major competitors (like Coke and Pepsi) advertise in a Super Bowl, there is no profit gain from the Super Bowl commercials for either company. Super Bowl ads just don’t work when there is competition.

So when do Super Bowl commercials “work” and generate revenue? According to Hartmann and Klapper, when there is an already-made association with the brand and sports, and there are no other competitors with Super Bowl ads, like the Anheuser-Busch produced Budweiser.

When there is no competition, but rather, harmony, people listen, are influenced, and buy. Generalizing this research into our communication and messaging as leaders, let’s make sure that what we say is not in competition with, but rather, in harmony with, our organization’s mission, vision, values, beliefs, and larger purpose.

If there is a competing message, people will be confused and tune out. If there is harmony, people will listen, remember, and be influenced.

2) Humor

I love monkeys in suits. Who doesn’t?

With last year’s ads, one of my favorites was the Doritos commercials of the middle seat. The Snickers Brady Bunch ad with Danny Trejo was pretty good too.

What do these have in common? Humor. We laugh out loud during these commercials.

And research shows that humor is something we as leaders can use to enhance our effectiveness. Bruce Avolio, Jane Howell, and one of my friends and research colleagues John Sosik in their study examined leaders in a financial institution.

They found that when leaders use humor, they received higher ratings on their individual performance appraisal and achieved their annual performance goals which included corporate objective business unit goals. Humor is an important way for us as leaders to build relationships and strengthen our bonds with the people we lead and serve, so use it.

But use humor in the “right” way by supporting others and strengthen relationships, not by attacking others, ridiculing others, and building ourselves up while tearing others down.

3) Heartstrings

I think the Super Bowl commercials we remember the most, the ones that really stick with us, are the ones that get to us emotionally. We say “awwww” when we see them. They hit us in the gut. We shed a tear.

It’s Coca Cola’s “Mean Joe Greene” commercial. It’s Clint Eastwood and Chrysler’s “It’s Halftime in America” commercial. And last year, we had Toyota’s “My Bold Dad,” Nissan’s “With Dad,” and Budweiser’s “Lost Dog” commercials (which not-so-coincidentally won this year’s USA Today’s Ad Meter ranking as best commercial). These ads pull on our heartstrings.

And as leaders, we should pull on heartstrings as well. Researcher Adam Grant (the New York Times best-selling author of Give and Take) shows us the importance of pulling on heartstrings.

In a series of studies, Grant introduced the thought of a beneficiary: a client, customer, patient, anyone who was directly helped by or whose life or well-being depended upon the product or service provided.

Through his research, Grant found that when employees were brought into contact with a beneficiary, the positive relationship between being a transformational leader (being charismatic, visionary, inspirational, having concern for others) and follower performance strengthened.

Why? Beneficiaries pull on the heartstrings.

If we as leaders bring in beneficiaries, our followers can understand how their work matters. The people we lead will clearly see how meaningful their work is, how it helps others, and how their work positively affects the lives of others.


Harmony, humor, and heartstrings are just 3 ways Super Bowl commercials — combined with a little bit of research — can help you be a better leader.

What are others? What insights from Super Bowl commercials do you use to be a better leader? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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