Advertising Provides Cities a Lesson on Messaging for Millennials

The Eagles won the Lombardi Trophy, but Super Bowl LII advertisers seek a different prize: millennials. The lesson for cities: drive authenticity in your messaging.


Anyone watching the Super Bowl LII may have noticed a great number of advertisers talking about corporate social responsibility, unity and equality. According to AdAge, the reason they are touting philanthropy and creating caused-based ads is not just to stir emotions while steering clear of divisive political issues, but also because they are targeting millennials:

If more brands follow Budweiser’s and Hyundai’s lead, it will mark a departure from previous games. Only 6.4 percent of Super Bowl ads in the the past 10 years made a corporate social responsibility appeal, according to research from Charles Taylor, a marketing professor at Villanova School of Business. But he is projecting more cause-based ads this year because they are favored by millennials, he said in a report previewing this year’s ad slate.

A number of companies did follow the lead, including Dodge, Verizon, T-Mobile and others.

This Super Bowl ad by Verizon, which said last year it is building a core network for dedicated service to first responders outside of the nationwide FirstNet public safety broadband being built by AT&T, features gratitude for first responders from recent events, including Hurricane Harvey:

...certainly, if it’s an authentic and deeply rooted connection to the cause or the specific organization, it’s a great storytelling moment, if handled correctly,” said Jay Porter, president of the Chicago office of PR agency Edelman in the AdAge story leading up to Superbowl LII.

It may be too soon to tell how this Verizon messaging lands on its millennial targets, but research suggests not only business advertisers, but city planners should heed careful attention to drive authenticity in storytelling.

In 2014, CityLab reported on why cities were and should be paying so much attention to millennials, noting that millennials are essentially the future customers of metropolitan regions.

“As planners, it’s vital that we look ahead 15 or 20 years,” to guide growth, said William Anderson, president of the American Planning Association, when asked about a then study on Investing in Place. The study revealed that both millennials and boomers want:

Andrea Fox is Editor of and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.