Would Your Company Pass the Super Bowl Challenge?

By Jonathan David Lewis

Like the athletes playing in the Super Bowl, advertisers who invest enormous amounts of money and time into creating an ad for the game are under intense pressure to perform.

For most companies, the prospect of advertising in the Super Bowl are near zero. But have you ever stopped to consider what would happen if your company had a shot to be in the big game?

No seriously. What if someone gave you millions of dollars and said you had to spend it on a Super Bowl ad, essentially handing your company a chance to have the entire world’s attention?

Would your company rise to the challenge?

When the stakes are high, fractures in the dam tend to leak. It’s in moments like these that the health of your company can be gauged by whether it rises to the occasion or crumbles under the pressure.

Inside Out
JC Penney and Ron Johnson faced their own “Super Bowl Challenge” when Johnson first stepped into leadership. The rock star CEO was coming off of a string of highly publicized successes and was essentially given carte blanche to transform the embattled company. The opportunities seemed endless and the stakes couldn't have been higher. But just months into Johnson’s “transformation”, sales were down dramatically.

While most observers immediately blame the debacle on Johnson’s failed sales strategy and customer ignorance, only a few have highlighted the true cause of the fiasco; Johnson’s mixed support within the company. Without buy-in from leadership, even Johnson’s most valiant efforts were doomed to failure.

Speaking of the core problem, Kim Bhasin wrote in a Huffington Post Business article that Mr. Johnson was let go not just for "plummeting sales", but for "employee strife."

Brad Tuttle writing for the Times further reported that "In late February, the Wall Street Journal quoted JC Penney COO Michael Kramer voicing his distaste for the company as it was before Johnson took over. "I hated the J.C. Penney culture. It was pathetic," Kramer said."

The internal wrangling was even on display as recently as this August when the Huffington Post reported that "Ackman, who picked Johnson to lead his hedge fund's attempt to transform Penney into an upscale retail chain, quit Penney's board last week after a public spat with other directors and Ullman."

Clearly JC Penney wasn't just dealing with a stale brand and stalled sales at the time Johnson took over, but more importantly, extreme internal dysfunction.

Character Beats Luck Every Time
Think of a high stakes opportunity or challenge at your company like winning the lottery. Some winners handle it well, take a measured approach to their earnings and subsequently aren’t interesting enough to make it into the headlines. But others go off the deep end, blow all their earnings and end up worse off than they were before.

Ultimately, the lottery winnings have nothing to do with success or failure. They simply accentuate the winner’s character in the first place.

To gauge whether your company has the character to pass your next “Super Bowl Challenge”, answer the questions below for an honest assessment (if you’re feeling really bold, take the When Growth Stalls Disruption Cycle Survey for in-depth results).

  • Is your management team aligned around a single marketing goal or are different departments pulling in separate directions?
  • Does management agree on a narrowly defined target and then focus all of the company’s efforts on delighting them?
  • Does management have the nerve to communicate boldly in the marketplace or is fear or dysfunction creating milk toast messaging?

If your company management has sincere alignment around the answers to the questions above, you may just rise to the challenge and take advantage of your mythical Super Bowl ad opportunity.

But if leadership suffers from discord, mixed incentives or infighting, your once in a lifetime marketing opportunity will only enhance problems, not diminish them.

Jonathan David Lewis

President and author, Jonathan specializes in the spirit of the matter. Call Jonathan when problems feel ambiguous and morale is low. He’ll know what to do.

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