7 huge companies trying to show off their small business cred

February 7, 2014, 10:30 PM UTC
Photograph by Siri Stafford — Getty Images

Like the interspecies friendship between the Budweiser puppy and the Budweiser Clydesdale, dramatized in the beer-maker’s super-adorable Super Bowl ad, corporations have mined another kind of awww-inspiring alliance for marketing gold: the big business-small business relationship.

It’s a genre whose hall of fame includes American Express’s “Small Business Saturdays,” and now, too, perhaps Intuit’s “Small Business, Big Game” blitz that gave a little company $4 million worth of Super Bowl advertising.

Ken Yancey, CEO of SCORE, a nonprofit association that provides resources to small businesses, has been noticing this B2B trend for years, going back to the early 2000s. “As the economic importance of small businesses, their buying power, and their impact on communities has become widely known,” he says, “more larger companies have focused on them as a market segment.”

For major corporations, such ads are also a way to reach individual consumers with that crowd-pleasing notion of helping Main Street. It’s like saying, “When you’re working with us, you’re also working with all these small companies,” explains Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

But advertisers have to be careful; it’s hard enough creating a message for one brand, let alone multiple brands in the same ad. “It can quickly turn into a jumble,” warns Calkins. For that reason, the Super Bowl advertising critique session Calkins launched for Northwestern MBAs actually handed Intuit’s small-biz commercial a harsh grade of “D.” “One of the issues with the spot was the branding wasn’t very clear,” he says.

Below, check out how Intuit and others have tried to win big with small.

1 Intuit

The $4.2 billion finance-software company launched a Super Bowl marketing campaign last July, promising to feature a small business in a commercial during the Big Game. Out of 15,000 or so entrants, GoldieBlox, a toymaker for girls, won the precious airtime, which included a brief shot of Intuit's QuickBooks (INTU) accounting software logo. Watch it.

2 GoDaddy

The web hosting company's Super Bowl commercial featured a pack of burly bodybuilders (including auto racer/model Danica Patrick in a souped-up body suit) sprinting to -- where else? -- the local tanning salon, Selena's Spray Tan. The tagline: "Get Found. Get Business." Watch it.

3 Chase

JPMorgan's (JPM) consumer banking arm last year selected The Paper Cottage, an online stationary store based in Chatham, N.J., to help advertise Ink, Chase's line of business credit cards. Last month, the company also selected 12 small-biz winners of its Mission Main Street grants, giving $250,000 and a trip to Google to each merchant. Watch it.

4 AT&T

AT&T's (T) ads for its small business solutions have featured locksmiths, lawyers, and, best of all, veterinarians surrounded by lots of cute dogs -- all of whom (the business owners, not the dogs) were looking for ways to expand their clientele. Watch it.


The delivery service wants customers to know that it loves small businesses just as much as it loves logistics. In a recent spot, both a coffee-serving restaurateur and the owner of a bridal boutique tout the printing services at their local UPS Store (UPS). Watch it.

6 Dell

After a tumultuous 2013, the now-privately held Dell embarked on an ad campaign that shows where big businesses that used to be small businesses got their start -- including Skype, The Knot, and Whole Foods. Playing in the background, you can just make out a cover of "This Magic Moment." Watch it.

7 American Express

Need a coffee, a haircut, or an artful piece of home décor? Then just hop on your bicycle, hit the neighborhood shops, and hope they accept that AmEx card in your back pocket. This past Thanksgiving the Main Street Alliance objected to American Express's three-year-old "Small Business Saturday" campaign, in part owing to the swipe fees the company charges. Meanwhile, AmEx (AXP), together with the National Federation of Independent Business, claims awareness of the day is growing and translating to a 3.6% increase in consumer spending. Watch it.