5 Marketing Lessons to Learn from Hank the Clydesdale Super Bowl Ad

clydesdale high five You don’t necessarily need a big budget to tell a great story that your customers will remember.

Once again the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale ad was the favorite ad in the 2008 Super Bowl. It outscored all the rest of their ads that were trying to strengthen the Bud Light brand against Miller Lite. In fact, only three Anheuser-Busch ads scored in the top 10. It’s not clear that they accomplished much with their hodgepodge of Bud Light ads, most of which scored poorly.

What is it about Hank the Clydesdale and all of the preceding Clydesdale commercials that put them at the top of the pack? And, what lessons can you apply to your own marketing, whatever the size of your budget?

  1. clydesdale barn pull The ad tells a compelling story that we can easily follow from beginning to end. It’s the story of an underdog–or under-horse–Hank, the Clydesdale, who barely misses making the team of Clydesdales who will be pulling the Budweiser wagon. The commercial is set against the theme from Rocky as Hank works for an entire year to do whatever it takes to make the team. Sure enough, just like Rocky, he’s a winner in the end. We all love those kind of success stories.
  2. The ad is highly visual with a series of images that flow logically from start to finish. In fact, the images are so good that there is virtually no dialogue through the entire commercial. The only words spoken are: “Maybe next year Hank” at the very beginning and “Welcome aboard, Hank, ” when our equine hero finally makes the team.
  3. Hank’s story is full of memorable moments that build on one another to create an indelible impression. I’m guessing that you would be able to tell this story in detail a year from now. One such moment is Hank and his Dalmatian buddy high-fiving it after Hank makes the team. On the other hand, in the next 12 months, you probably will have forgotten most of the other Super Bowl ads, including those from Budweiser.
  4. Hank’s story is the classic tale of the underdog who manages to achieve victory through hard work and dedication. It’s essentially the animal version of the American dream. If you work hard enough and long enough, you can accomplish almost anything. Even if there’s an element of myth to it, we all cherish the ideal. That’s why we love celebrating Hank’s triumph.
  5. Lovable four-legged characters, Hank and his unnamed Dalmatian pal dominate the story. They make us care about the outcome, knowing in our hearts that Hank is going to make the team. We care about them. We care about their struggle. We care about their success. And, in the end, we also care about Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser beer.

What can you take away from this big buck branding advertising?

clydesdale pulling train Whether you work for a small company or a giant like Anheuser-Busch, making great stories a fundamental part of your marketing process can be critical to your success. Great stories are memorable. They are told and retold. Thanks to the Internet they can reach a global audience. Figure out what stories your company has to tell. Then be certain that you tell them well.

Visual elements add enormous power to a story. Be sure to use visual elements to make your story is even more memorable whenever you can and whenever it’s appropriate. There’s a reason for blackboards in schools and whiteboards in companies. We tend to remember what we see more than what we hear or read.

When you tell a story, see if you can’t make it about how an underdog company or individual succeeds by using your products and expertise. This transforms a case study into a success story. A case study might be boring. A success story can be both compelling in the moment and memorable for the long term.

A content marketing strategy that integrates wonderful storytelling will be powerful indeed. Integrating relevant images will make it even better. Perhaps you have a Hank the Clydesdale tale that needs to be told. By all means, tell it. When you have a great story, you don’t need Budweiser’s budget to make it work for you.

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  1. Tom Bass
    Posted February 7, 2008 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    The same old mistake again. So it was the most popular ad in the Super Bowl – the ongoing battle to spend millions of dollars to entertain millions of viewers with ads that win awards and sell…nothing. How many more cases of Budweiser will this ad sell? That’s the ONLY valid grade for these things. Otherwise, it’s just another award-winning case of “I saw a great ad on TV last night. ‘Don’t remember who it was for, but…” Proctor & Gamble, now that’s a company that traditionally knows how to advertise (as the ad agency execs cringe)

  2. Posted February 7, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Hank making the team ranks right up there with the dalmation sticking his tongue out at his snooty brother in the limo and a young Clydesdale pulling the huge Budweiser wagon only to realize that he doesn’t know his parents are pushing it also. When Mr. Busch says, “I won’t tell him if you don’t” it brings back memories of every parent that helped a kid get ahead and the kid never knew.

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