Hey, let’s burn a couple million dollars on the Super Bowl

SuperBowl_XLVII_(2013)_logoAs we approach the big day this Sunday, everybody is getting ready for the main event – who will win the battle of the ads!  Both during and after the game, we will talk about the funniest, the cleverest, the cutest or the crassest commercials.  Brands will gain lots of exposure (a frequently mentioned benefit), but what does this actually equate to once the chatter is over and the money is spent?  If you spend $3-4 million dollars to air a commercial + another $1-2 million to produce it, there should be some major expectations that it generates serious payback.

I think there is way too much emphasis on brand reinforcement when it comes to Superbowl advertising.  We all know about the sugary sodas, beers, salty snacks and auto companies that show up year after year.  Do their commercials really change consumer behavior in a lasting way?  While they may get a quick spike of attention, the results are questionable.  As a story on America Public Media’s Marketplace shows, it’s difficult for people to even recall which brand is associated with many memorable commercials.

At least now, there are ways to tie commercials to a company’s online presence, getting people to sign up for a contest, follow a brand on a social site, or interact with a game/app.  These move the advertising from a passive to (potentially) an active experience, and help to create ongoing engagement.  Still, I would put these criteria on making an investment in Superbowl advertising:

  • Launching a new product.  If you want to create awareness, make it about something new. Anheuser Busch InBev seems to have finally figured this out, rolling out a new version of Bud Light at last year’s Superbowl, and a new version of Bud this year.  This gives the new product massive-scale exposure, and can quickly generate sales.  It makes much more sense than showing Clydesdales horses pulling a wagon or beer bottles playing football, but given their past history of Superbowl saturation, they will probably have some of these types of commercials too.
  • Kicking off a promotion. A great example of this is when Hyundai announced a new program during the 2009 Superbowl, Hyundai Assurance, allowing people who became unemployed after purchasing one of their vehicles to return it.  It fit perfectly with the risk-averse mood of consumers at the time, and the results were a runaway success.
  • Promoting an upcoming event/show/movie.  For upcoming, near-term events, the Superbowl can be a great way to generate buzz and get large numbers of people to show up.  The prevailing wisdom in Hollywood seems to be that the Superbowl is good for action flicks, although last year’s game also promoted The Lorax and The Dictator.  Of course, the peril of losing your investment is fairly high.  For every box-office success like The Avengers or Hunger Games, there are plenty of examples of money down the drain such as Battleship or GI Joe 2 (they spent the ad money, and then the release was pushed out to 2013).  The farther out the release date, the less sense it makes advertise on the Superbowl…there is too much competing entertainment, and there is only so much that people can retain or pay attention to.

I’ll follow up next week to see who scored a game-winning touchdown and who should be cut from the team.

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