The Value of Super Bowl Advertising


The teams that will represent the NFC and AFC have been decided, the reformatted Pro Bowl has been played and now we turn our attention to the really big question about the Super Bowl. Not who will win the game or even the logic of holding it in colder-than-usual New York in February this year. The real argument is whether an advertisement during the big game is worth the $4 million price tag for a 30-second spot (just media time, no production).

My friend Steve sent me a note a few weeks ago about a study done by a company called Communicus that showed 80% of ads aired during the 2012 and 2013 Super Bowls didn’t increase purchases or purchase intent. Wow! This number is significantly lower than the 60% of ads that don’t increase purchases or purchase intent in general, according to the firm’s research. You can find more details in the Ad Age article .

One reason cited for the lower than average purchase effect of Super Bowl advertising is the one-and-done aspect of Super Bowl ads. Often, companies don’t run their Super Bowl ad on a consistent basis so there is no reinforcing of the message with repetition, especially if the ad did not test well in post-game surveys. Unless the ad goes viral and becomes the talk of the workplace on Monday morning, it is likely to be relegated to the creative group’s portfolio.

Another issue cited with Super Bowl advertising is that, in attempts to go for entertainment value, the ads miss the mark in terms of brand strategy. This, again, makes the ads feel “one off” and less likely to influence purchase decisions.

This assumes the primary objective in advertising during the Super Bowl is to increase purchase intent. (Save the emails please, I know it should be the primary objective.) But sometimes it feels like the Super Bowl advertising circus is just that: A circus of who can pull-off the most amazing stunt, whether or not it makes sense. There is also the arms-race scenario where companies just try to out-do competitors whether or not it fits with the company’s marketing strategy. This results in a decision about which ad will create the most buzz, not which ad will sell the most product or at least move more people closer to buying.

Of course the other argument is the definition of “value”, which is really in the mind of the buyer. With so many long-term buyers of Super Bowl advertising willing to plop down millions every year, I have to assume they are measuring value in ways that go beyond increased purchases and purchase intent.

The other interesting point raised by Communicus’ research is in terms of 60% of general television advertising not increasing purchases or purchase intent. In the 100+ years since John Wanamaker said half his advertising was wasted, Communicus seems to come pretty close to the same conclusion for modern day marketers. Of course, the company claims to be able to tell you which half of your ads is being wasted.

So enjoy the Super Bowl pre-game hype, follow the weather predictions, tune in for the game and argue which ads were the “best”. But now you know, that “best” will rarely mean that the ad sold the most product.

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