Sunday’s showdown between the Patriots and Rams turned out to be some of the least compelling television in recent memory. The 13-3 snore-fest that played out on the gridiron didn’t give CBS much to work with, to be fair. There was one brilliant moment, though, that captured my complete and undivided attention. During a pregame ad, in the midst of some amusing back and forth with Peyton Manning, John Malkovich suddenly bellowed a powerful lesson in storytelling. CBS essentially made a captivating piece of content by, well, telling us how to make captivating content.

The promo begins with cinematic slow-motion shots, costumed warriors, suspenseful symphonic music, and a classic “movie preview” narrator voice. Manning is pitching this dramatic Super Bowl promo to a conference room full of CBS Sports executives. They’re confused. Why would they consult with retired quarterback Peyton Manning if they wanted some metaphor about gladiators? Manning doesn’t seem to pick up what they’re putting down. But wait, he has rented out the entire Roman Colosseum and sent actor John Malkovich there for the commercial shoot. The absurdity builds.

Malkovich hops on a video call from Rome and tears Manning’s idea apart. The idea of gladiators quickly seems hackneyed and laughable. The put down gets some laughs, but Malkovich makes a point about the Super Bowl that any brand or marketer should take to heart. “The only story you need, Peyton, will be right in front of your eyes!” he shouts as if it couldn’t be more obvious. Malkovich becomes the voice of reason that many Mannings of the marketing world fail to hear when trying to convey their message to customers.
John Malkovich speaks with CBS execs via video.
The key is knowing what you offer and why people should want to choose it. That sounds overly simplified, but it’s just that basic. In this scenario, CBS has the two best teams in the country competing for the biggest title in football on a grand stage. Why would they say anything else? 

You know your product or service, and you know your mission. Don’t stray from that identity. Gather customer feedback diligently to make sure you know exactly what your customers want. Brands often make the mistake of adding more bells and whistles to their websites, marketing material, and sales tactics. Clarifying your message and stripping away the excess is an important exercise when experiencing growth and broadening your audience.

Every part of your story should clearly communicate what you offer and how it will better the customer’s story. As Malkovich so aptly puts it in the promo: “Everything else is noise!” When you’re competing for customers’ attention over the roar of today’s crowded markets, you can’t afford any extra noise.

Watch the Super Bowl LIII Opener here.