What nonprofit marketers can learn from Super Bowl XLIX ads

After years of Super Bowl ads centered around celebrities, slapstick comedy and bikinis, advertisers during yesterday's game chose to go straight for the heart.

Companies paid up to a record $4.5 million for 30-second spots, many of which were designed to tug at viewers' heart strings rather than make them burst out laughing.

Budweiser's most sentimental ad (embedded above) featured a touching story about the friendship between a farmer and his dog after Clydesdale horses helped rescue the lost puppy. The ad was posted online days before the game, drawing more than 42 million views online before kickoff.

Coke addressed digital hate speech and bullying, showing mean messages sent on social media that were changed to positive ones.

Toyota showed the story of dad reminiscing about fatherhood while driving his girl to the airport where she'll depart for military duty. Nissan crafted an emotional narrative about a father who is sort of estranged from his son. An uplifting spot for Dove depicted a series of children calling out “Dad” and “Daddy.”

Even the spot for Procter & Gamble’s Always feminine products focused on highlighting girls' lack of confidence would've brought tears to the eyes of any father who has a daughter.

Meanwhile, McDonald's selected random people to "pay with lovin'" by calling their mothers or saying what's good about their children instead of having to pay for their food.

Overall, Super Bowl XLIX ads featured an overwhelming dose of humanity -- something cause marketers should pay close attention to.

As crass as advertising can sometimes feel, it tells you something that is very important: what advertisers think people will respond to.

And when the biggest ad showcase of the year focuses on heart-felt storytelling rather than product features and benefits, we need to listen up.

As you are planning your next campaign, appeal letter, email newsletter, video or marketing piece, consider watching any of the above ads and ask yourself whether you can connect on the same level.

Just yesterday I received an appeal asking me to support an inner-city agency that provides "specialized, flexible and innovative solutions."

I'm not sure what that actually means, but having been involved as a volunteer I know they help disadvantaged youth learn how to record music, create videos and produce media in a state-of-the-art studio.

One of their participants, whose family and community expected little from, is now a video-journalist because of the free training she received. What an amazing story! Yet, their appeal was steeped in jargon that read like a grant appeal.

But here's the thing:

People don't care what you do -- they care about what they can do through you.

They care about the stories of the people you serve. They care about how they feel when they invest in you.

When powerhouse brands like Budweiser, Toyota, Nissan, Coke and Procter & Gamble are starting to understand that story-driven marketing connects with people, so should we.

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Note: My friend John Longhurst wrote a great piece on why nonprofits should ditch scary facts and figures and focus on telling a heart-felt story. You can find it on his blog.