The teams, the storylines, the appetizers, the bucket of brews, the halftime entertainment, the box pools, the day-long pregame shows, and – oh yeah – the big game itself. Welcome to another Super Bowl.
Like it or not, all of these things that make Super Bowl Sunday an unofficial holiday take a backseat to the commercials. The commercials have become the part of the experience that gives the Super Bowl such mass appeal. And I’m talking about serious mass.
Last year’s game averaged more than 108 million viewers over the course of the game and earned a 46.4 rating, ranking third among the most watched TV programs in American history. The average 30-second commercial for this year’s Super Bowl set advertisers back about $4 million.
Yes, the Super Bowl sold out its ad inventory. Many advertisers started planning their Super Bowl strategy six months or more in advance.
For all the hype, and all of the millions of dollars and viewers, are those ads making money for advertisers? How are advertisers getting the most mileage out of their investment? And why should small business owners care?
A recent survey from Venables Bell & Partners revealed 78 percent of Americans look forward to the commercials more than the game, up from 59 percent in 2011.
41 percent will be texting during the game, and another 41 percent will be engaged with Facebook. 36 percent of respondents say social media enhances their viewing experience.
70 percent will make it a point to watch the ads before the game, and more than half will watch ads again online after the game.
But only 25 percent of survey respondents said they would be more interested in buying a product after seeing it advertised during the Super Bowl.
This survey comes on the heels of a study from Communicus that suggests only 20 percent of Super Bowl commercials increased sales or purchase intent. 40 percent of all other tested ads – those of the non-big game variety – increased sales or purchase intent.
Why have most Super Bowl commercials failed?
According to the folks at Communicus, many ads haven’t aired very much, if at all, after the game. One ad does not a campaign make.
Also, advertisers focused too much on entertainment value, and viewers tend to remember the story more than the brand. No surprise here. If the brand isn’t an integral part of the story, the story isn’t doing the brand much good.
Not every business can pull off what Master Lock did beginning in 1974, devoting nearly all of its marketing budget to the Super Bowl. The ad itself was brilliant – a pad lock surviving a gunshot from a sharpshooter.
The success achieved by Master Lock even though an almost identical ad ran exactly once per year – in 21 straight Super Bowls – is remarkable.
Pepsi is banking on a combination of traditional TV commercials, social media and experiential marketing before, during and likely after the game to maximize ROI. This is the kind of approach most consultants are recommending – an approach that often doubles or triples the advertiser’s investment.
Pepsi has completely overhauled its strategy for this year’s Super Bowl, passing up multiple ads for one ad that introduces the halftime show starring Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers – and sponsored by Pepsi.
Leading up to the game, Pepsi has been building buzz with halftime-themed TV ads during the playoffs, a two-and-a-half minute ad during the Grammy’s, and halftime-themed online videos and live events.
This year, more advertisers are dialing up the pregame buzz and YouTube teasers.
According to YouTube, 17 advertisers have unveiled Super Bowl ads or teasers as of the writing of this post. They’ve been viewed more than 17.5 million times, led by Axe’s “Make Love, Not War” ad with 3 million YouTube views. Mashable lists the rest of the top 10.
By the way, the same Mashable article points out that Google searches for “Super Bowl commercials” are twice what they were at this point before last year’s big game.
Here’s a small sampling of what we already know going into the game:
U2 will perform the new song Invisible during a commercial, and free downloads will be available during the game. Bank of America will donate $1 for every download to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
The cast of ABC’s Full House has reunited for a Dannon Oikos ad. Goose bumps?
Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander and Larry David of Seinfeld have reportedly filmed an ad at the fictional Monk’s coffee shop, although the name of the advertiser has been kept secret.
GoDaddy will continue to try to overhaul its image. NASCAR star Danica Patrick remains, but the nearly naked women are gone.
On the other hand, dreamy soccer star David Beckham will be donning underwear in a commercial for retailer H&M.
Sarah McLachlan will spoof her own role in those old SPCA commercials in an allegedly hilarious Audi ad.
Auto floor mat manufacturer WeatherTech is set to make its Super Bowl debut and will focus not on its products, but the importance of American manufacturing.
The Multi-Million Dollar Question: Is it worth it to advertise in the Super Bowl?
Of course it is. If you do it right and have deep pockets.
Yes, it’s crazy expensive, but more tools exist than ever that can help advertisers squeeze as much juice as possible out of a 30-second Super Bowl ad.
From traditional ads to YouTube videos to Facebook and Twitter – and the ability to use mobile to take full advantage of these platforms – the Super Bowl presents an obvious opportunity for advertisers looking to reach a broad audience in massive numbers.
Yet research shows just one out of five ads did its job.
This makes the Super Bowl a multi-million dollar gamble that most advertisers have yet to figure out from both a creative and strategic standpoint.
What can small business owners take away from all of this?
Takeaway 1: Traditional advertising still works, and not just for big brands.
Newspaper, magazines, radio and television are still trusted by the majority of Americans. No form of online advertising can say that.
Marketers who dismiss traditional advertising because they consider it “old media” are naïve and shortsighted. Traditional advertising that can deliver the right audience is still incredibly powerful.
Take FM and AM radio, which paid my salary for about 13 years. How many forms of advertising provide you with 60 seconds to speak with your audience and convince them to buy your product?
Also, nearly every reputable traditional media outlet has an online presence that offers advertisers more opportunities to reinforce their message with their audience.
Takeaway 2: If you place an ad buy and just sit back waiting for a response, or you don’t advertise long enough, you’re leaving money on the table.
There are so many ways to connect with your audience when they’re not seeing or hearing your ad. There’s no excuse for not supporting ads with social media, email, blogs and whatever else your audience uses to consume information or for entertainment.
Marketing shouldn’t be a group of isolated campaigns. Marketing is a never-ending, integrated program with many components and phases. This is why you can’t run an ad for a week – or once during a major event – and expect to set the world on fire.
When people ask me how long they need to market their company, my answer is always the same.
Forever. Or as long as you want to stay in business.
Takeaway 3: Unlike the Super Bowl, people aren’t dying to see or hear your ads, blogs, social media posts or any other marketing. I say this as someone who writes all of this stuff for a living.
If you want your marketing to be relevant and worthy of someone’s attention, you need to choose the right platforms based on your specific audience – not a sales rep’s presentation.
Then you need to deliver a message that focuses less on being witty or creative and more on how your product can make someone’s life better.
A brand like Bud Light can drop $4 million on an ad and spin it as a success if they get on the “most viral” or “most shared” list, whether the ad makes money or not – if that can be accurately quantified anyway. They can also afford take a $4 million dollar bath even if they would prefer not to.
Can your small business afford marketing that doesn’t produce ROI?
Don’t get hung up on being clever or making people laugh. You’re a marketer, not an entertainer. Focus on substance first, and use creativity to enhance the message, not distract from it.
I want to know what you think. Is Super Bowl advertising worth it? Do you think the commercials are effective? What else can small businesses learn from it?
I’m a copywriter, marketing consultant, lifelong New Jersey resident, husband to a beautiful wife and father to two beautiful girls. I love playing with my daughters, a day at the boardwalk, sarcasm, craft beer and grilling. I despise beating around the bush, synchronized swimming, Toddlers & Tiaras and onions. Most people don’t know I used to be a radio DJ and once wrote, produced and voiced a commercial for the TV show 24. Two places I want to visit before I die are Ireland and Norway, the homes of my ancestors. One place I never want to revisit is my first apartment because my creepy landlord, Monty, freaked me out. That just about covers it.