What Marketers Can Learn From Five-Time Super Bowl Winners the New England Patriots

They don’t focus on trends; they focus on proven strategies

Maybe there's something to be learned from a team that's made it to the Super Bowl nine times. - Credit by Getty Images
Headshot of Thomas Henry

In a league designed to create a level playing field at the start of every new season, the New England Patriots have been to nine Super Bowls in 18 years, winning five. It’s nothing short of remarkable.

So how have they done it?

Of course, there’s the talent of Tom Brady, the acumen of Bill Belichick and his coaching staff, but for American marketers, the most interesting insight about the Patriots’ success is that they’ve never followed the trend of the day to find their wins or their rings in this copycat league. And this year’s Super Bowl season is a perfect example.

Earlier in the year, the Los Angeles Rams, who will play the Patriots on Sunday, took on the Kansas City Chiefs, who the Patriots beat in the AFC championship.

The Rams versus Chiefs game was a firework show. The teams combined for 105 points, 14 touchdowns and 1,000 yards. Offensive genius’ Sean McVay and Andy Reid were locked in a cut and thrust dual to the death as they called play after play, touchdown after touchdown.

Sports media told fans that these trends defined the new NFL: “If you don’t have an offensive Svengali as a head coach, you cannot win.” “If you don’t have a young, athletic quarterback, you cannot win.” “If you don’t have star wide receivers and running backs, you cannot win.” These are the trends that define the new NFL.

Similar to great marketers, the New England Patriots don’t care what’s trendy or what’s hard, they just focus on the evidence for what will help them win.

Of course, the Patriots have none of these things. Their coach is a defensive guru, their QB is 41, and they have three running backs that Pats fans would struggle to name.

We know exactly what this feels like in our industry because we too are obsessed with the trends that define the new advertising: “If you’re making TV ads, you cannot win.” “Unless you’re designing solely for Instagram and Facebook, you cannot win.” “If you try and have a brand POV instead of using influencers, you cannot win.” These are the trends that define the new advertising.

Problem is that whether it’s advertising or the NFL, these trends don’t actually help you win. Similar to the Patriots, the best agencies and the best clients don’t get swept up in fads or trends. Instead, they rely on empirical evidence to make their decisions.

The findings from the 2018 IPA Effectiveness Awards were published last week. Eighty entries from countries around the world were evaluated on their ability to deliver market share, net revenue growth or profit. These awards deal solely in the kinds of grown-up metrics that American marketers (clients and agencies) forget about most of the time: The metrics that define winning.

Despite the new trends we are told about in our industry, 71 percent of the IPA’s winning entries used TV as their lead medium while 84 percent of winners used a significant amount of TV in some capacity.

So why don’t more American marketers focus on making award-winning TV ads?

Truth is, they’re bloody tough to get right and the investment can seem like a risk. When you hear the first version of “Dilly Dilly,” “Bud-wise-er,” or “God Made a Farmer” read over a conference line, it seems like anything other than a straight road to commercial victory. But great marketers aren’t fazed by what’s difficult. They trust the evidence and simply accept that making great, effective TV ads will require incredible commitment from an extended team with a super high advertising IQ.

Similar to great marketers, the New England Patriots don’t care what’s trendy or what’s hard, they just focus on the evidence for what will help them win. Belichick’s most famous coaching principle is that, whatever team he’s playing, his mission is to take away the one thing that they do best.

Just like making award-winning TV ads, there’s a lot of evidence that supports the effectiveness of Belichick’s strategy. So why don’t more teams do it? Because doing this means writing bespoke game plans every week from scratch. It takes incredible commitment from an extended team with a super high football IQ.

There may well be a day when TV is obsolete just like there may well be a day when Belichick’s approach no longer dominates the NFL. But neither of those things are happening in 2019 or 2020 or 2021. So why don’t we all sit down this Sunday and in-between the ads, watch some football so we can take a lesson from the Patriots?

It’s entirely likely that, in a season of “offensive explosion,” the Patriots are going to line-up as they have done all year, with an old school full back, monster tight end Rob Gronkowski and one of the best offensive lines in Football to try punch the Los Angeles Rams in the mouth for 60 minutes. Offensive fireworks be damned.

Why will they do this? Because doing so gives this team the best chance to win this year. After all, if you’re not totally and utterly focused on winning with the team you have right now, why the hell are you taking the field?


@ArtsUnknown Thomas Henry is a strategy director at Mother New York.