Competitive Intelligence: Three Lessons Learned from the Big Game

14 May 2020 09:32

Insights from Super Bowl 53 show that competitive intelligence can be used to gain an advantage.

In the United States, competition doesn’t get much fiercer than it does at the Super Bowl. The culminating matchup of the National (American) Football League, it’s a television event that draws viewers from around the world. In addition, the Big Game (as it’s commonly known) is a time for advertisers to compete for would-be customers, athletes to compete for fame and victory, musicians to grow their audience and television networks to compete for viewers.

In competition, knowing and anticipating your opponent is vital. While pro football players spend the weeks before the Super Bowl training their bodies, running new drills and reviewing the competition’s playbook, competitive intelligence requires much more than physical toughness. It requires mental focus, too; that’s why athletes devote time to researching the rival team and brushing up on their media interview skills.

In fact, the entire event is rich with lessons to learn about the spirit of competitive intelligence. As natural nerds always ready to dig in to the bigger picture, we couldn’t resist exploring this a little further.


You may have heard of the importance to “know thyself,” but when you’re in a competition it’s pretty important to know something about whom you’re up against. In American Football, the stars are the quarterbacks. And in this particular matchup, one quarterback, the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, came to the game with a leg up on the competition. He’s been called one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, and we see evidence of his star power in Newsdesk results for overall sentiment, popularity and total number of Super Bowl wins.

The coaches, too, each brought a certain level of star power to the conversation. While perhaps not household names, the Ram’s coach, Sean McVay, and the coach for the Patriots, Bill Belichick, each played a prominent role in overall share of voice.

New England Patriots word cloud illustrates national conversation for a competitive insight.

You can take this a step further still by moving beyond just the current conversation and researching a bit more. While a win may not depend on this level of research, the perhaps bigger battle over fans, sponsorships and brand equity relies on this deeper knowledge.

Look at Brady, for instance. He’s carefully curated a number of significant partnerships—from commercial ventures, sponsorships and philanthropy—to help establish a high level of name recognition… and the sheer number of Super Bowl rings he’s earned doesn’t hurt. Add to that a best-selling book, appearances on television shows like The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live and—love him or hate him—the reason behind his popularity starts to come into focus. (Jared Goff, take note.)


When your competition does something good, a success for them can be an even bigger win for you. We’re not talking about hijacking a win by tampering with the game balls (too soon?); we mean being diligent about monitoring the competition and industry, noticing trends and executing accordingly.

Take the feud between Bud Light and Miller Lite, for example. For those outside of the States, forgive our taste in beer for a moment and stick with us. Miller Lite hasn’t advertised during the Big Game in more than two decades, yet still somehow managed to be a star during and after the game with a well-executed social media plan.

Why does this matter? Miller Lite’s chief competitor, Bud Light, has been a prolific sponsor of the game. Media monitoring leading up to the game left a clear trail of breadcrumbs for what Bud Light had in store for this year, including an all-out reveal before the commercial aired: they were continuing their competitive feud with a tongue-in-cheek attack on Miller Lite. Armed with this knowledge, Miller Lite initiated its own campaign to attack back… and they succeeded in becoming part of the conversation.



The last time the Rams and the Patriots faced off in The Big Game was back in 2002, which offers a pretty interestingapples-to-apples comparison of—and historical context for—how dramatic change can be. Using Nexis® to search the archives,we can get a peek into an entirely different universe, with press clippings like:

  • “No one expected much from Tom Brady and Kordell Stewart this season, but here they are one game from the Super Bowl”– Saint Paul Pioneer Press, Minnesota, Jan 27, 2002
  • “Patriots’ win symbolizes what league is all about; Super Bowl shocker shows how teams can rise from mediocrity in one season”– The Record, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Feb 5, 2002
  • “Living a fairy tale: Tom Brady’s shift from a no-name backup to the Super Bowl MVP has been a quick change for the 24-year old”– Orlando Sentinel, Florida, Feb 5, 2002

Tom Brady, a “no-name backup”?! Wow, have times changed. But there are other clues as to just how much cultural change has occurred in the 18 years since Brady and his Patriots faced the Rams.

Looking back over transcripts, we dive into the context of top TV coverage at the time.With the world wide web still early in its widespread adoption, newscasters in the early2000s weren’t sharing URLS or social media pages… they were mentioning AOL keywords! And while this year we saw coverage speculating on how the longest-ever U.S. government shutdown would impact Super Bowl security, in 2002 the nation was focused on heightened security in a country still reeling from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

In summation:Things change. Yesterday’s underdog can be today’s MVP. And, just like the Los Angeles Rams, your competition is playing the game to win. So be the Tom Brady of your industry by using both historical and real-time research to give your competitive intelligence a boost.

Intrigued by these insights on competitive intelligence? For more information on the products we used for media intelligence and research, contact us today.

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