Is an Ad on the Big Game Worth the Big Bucks?

By January 26, 2015Newsletter

The Super Bowl, the most watched television event of the year, provides the rarest of opportunities for marketers – an environment where the ads are also programming.

Where else can you put your product or service or image in front of an estimated 368 million eyeballs (assuming two per viewer) when people are paying as much attention to the commercials as the game? The Big Game is one of the last great TiVo-proof live events that can command a huge audience.

Why wouldn’t you advertise on the Super Bowl?

 

Well, for starters, the financial bar is exceedingly high.

NBC, the network broadcasting Super Bowl XLIX between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots this Sunday, is getting $4.4 million to $4.5 million for a 30-second spot. That’s an increase of $500,000, or 12.5 percent, from the $4 million or so that Fox charged last year.

Add several million dollars more to produce your ad and – if you really want to generate buzz and drive conversation before, during and after the game – count on spending a significant amount for paid promotion to “leak” or tease your ad on YouTube and other social media sites.

If your goal is to rank among the Super Bowl’s most-viewed ads online – around 18 million to 20 million views – be prepared to make a one-and-a-half-million-dollar investment, according to Seraj Bharwani, vice president of analytics at Visible Measures, a web audience measurement firm.

Planning for Super Bowl Sunday has expanded to account for everything beyond TV: a mini-marketing campaign that covers social, digital, mobile, integration with online partners and more, said Adam Komack, chief client officer at Mediacom.

The bottom line: Komack advises his clients not to advertise on the Big Game unless they’re prepared to spend $6 million to $10 million overall for production, placement and to bookend their in-game spot with weeks of promotion/digital marketing.

 

Then there’s the critical bar, which can be equally high.

More than a football game, the Super Bowl is a high stakes advertising proving ground where companies succeed and fail and careers are made and lost. Some CMOs want nothing more than to be able to brag that they put their commercial up against the best on the biggest stage.

Today, that stage includes the venerable USA Today Ad Meter, increasingly sophisticated research services, a growing number of media outlets and immediate feedback on Facebook, Twitter and innumerable blogs that critique and often mercilessly disparage bad Super Bowl ads.

With the pressure to get through the noise and stand out, sometimes a brand’s efforts to be sentimental can be eye-rollingly cheesy and attempts at funny can fall flat. And there you are on a pedestal with 184 million people watching and pointing.

 

So what do you get for $150,000 a second?

The decision to advertise in the Super Bowl is the most expensive dice-roll of the year. Still, some insist that advertisers are getting a serious bargain.

NBC executive Seth Winter argued that this year’s asking price in the neighborhood of $4.5 million for a 30-second spot is a steal. He reasoned that’s because the true value of exposure, which includes all of the video distribution pre- and post-game and the value of positive public relations associated with the game, is closer to $10 million.

According to Forbes magazine, the numbers add up. Breaking the $10 million value into several components – basic television viewership, social media and media coverage – it concluded that the average 30-second Super Bowl spot delivers a consumer ad value of $7.7 million, media exposure worth $480,000 and an increase in brand awareness, sales and stock prices worth just under $2 million.

The claim of increased sales is further backed by a 2011 Millward Brown Optimor study commissioned by the NFL, which said that one Super Bowl ad can be as effective as 250 regular TV commercials, driving an average sales lift for consumer package goods brands of more than 11percent in the month following the Super Bowl.

Other marketers point to self-reported stats like these:

  • Audi saw a 200 percent increase in web traffic after the game
  • CareerBuilder had a 68 percent increase in job applications
  • E-Trade enjoyed a 32 percent increase in new accounts
  • Hyundai generated 25,000 sales leads

 

The other side of the Super Bowl coin.

Not everyone is a Super Bowl cheerleader. Marketing consultant Jonathan Salem Baskin wrote, “I won’t waste your time blasting the ROI; you already know that vanity and vague hopes for headlines drive most of it, and the math for the rare examples that prompt transactions doesn’t add up once you start looking for sales conversions or brand loyalty.”

Baskin argues that advertising on the Super Bowl is supposed to sell stuff and that it shouldn’t be about participating in a big event to get brand recognition. “If your advertising isn’t supposed to sell,” he said, “you’re not supposed to pay for it.”

When marketers say that Super Bowl commercials, despite their high price, still offer a bargain in terms of cost per viewer, Mark Stevens doesn’t buy it. The president of global marketing firm MSCO and author of “Your Marketing Sucks” says, “Advertising is supposed to sell things, not be creativity for the sake of creativity. It’s not a bargain if there isn’t a tangible benefit.”

 

Can Super Bowl ads still meet viewer and marketer expectations?

Everyone seems to have their own metrics, from hard to soft, for determining ROI for being on the game. Returning advertisers obviously think there’s still value in a Super Bowl buy, even if others believe the playing field has shifted and the novelty is wearing off.

Some of the excitement about Super Bowl has faded because it’s been 31 years since the Super Bowl commercials became a significant event in and of themselves.

That was Super Bowl XVIII in 1984. A newly hired CEO agreed with his company’s board that it was a waste of money to run an ad that didn’t even show the product. They sold what planned Super Bowl ad time they could and reluctantly ran their product-less commercial in the 60-second slot they couldn’t unload.

That ad, Ridley Scott’s iconic “1984” for Apple, changed expectations for Super Bowl advertising forever. Today, we as viewers still expect the commercials to entertain us. For marketers with millions on the line, though, does entertainment justify the expenditure?

 

[STATS:]

$4.4 million – $4.5 million: Placement cost for a 30-second Super Bowl ad
184 million: Expected viewers for the game
$77.88 (up from $68.27 in 2014): Average viewer planned spending
$95.92: 18 to 24 planned spending
$101.54: 25 to 34 planned spending
$102.82: 35 to 44 planned spending
$14.3 billion: Total spending on game day expenses (food, team apparel, decorations, TVs)
46.8 percent: Say the game itself is why they watch
41.3 percent: Say the commercials and hanging out with friends is most important
11.9 percent: Say the half-time show is the main attraction

 

How effective are the commercials?

77.1 percent: Say they watch Super Bowl commercials for entertainment
20.1 percent: Say the commercials make them more aware of the advertiser’s brand
16.6 percent: Say the advertisers should save their money and pass the savings along to the consumers
9.7 percent: Say the commercials make the game last too long

 

SOURCE: National Retail Federation’s Super Bowl Spending Survey

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