Brand Advertisers Poised to Waste Millions on the Super Bowl

Recent survey data argue more people are interested in Super Bowl ads than the game itself. According to survey findings from Venables Bell & Partners, 78% of US adults “look forward to Super Bowl commercials more than the game.”

Basically the same general revelation came out of another survey from Chicago-based Lab42. There, only 28% of survey respondents said that the game was their primary interest. The remaining 72% were more interested in the ads.

Most Super Bowl advertisers this will pay something like $4 million for 30 seconds of airtime on game day. It’s the last remaining splashy, mass-media opportunity. And to take full advantage, ads are being teased, previewed and supplemented by online video and related social media campaigns — in an effort to maximize the value of the spend.

Some of the ads will be funny. Some will be dumb. A couple may be surprising or moving. Some will be controversial. But almost none of them will “work.” Studies show Super Bowl ads have little or no effect on sales.

Super Bowl ads can very effectively generate awareness of new products or help reposition brands or associate brands with an idea or message. They can also, if carefully coordinated, be supportive of other marketing efforts that might over time affect sales. But there’s a kind of “irrational exuberance” (as former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan used to say) about Super Bowl advertising.

There’s prestige and sex appeal in having your ad air during the Super Bowl. And there’s enormous buzz and discussion thereafter. But most of that doesn’t spill over into the real world and consumer spending.

Even Oreo, which won last year’s “blackout bowl,” didn’t necessarily advance its bottom line through its real-time reactions to events. People love Oreos generally; it’s a “good product.” So its clever social media ads may have reinforced its appeal. By comparison, Bud Light is a dog of a product. No amount of celebrity endorsements or Super Bowl airtime is going to change its underlying, negative sales trajectory.

We love Super Bowl ads — they’re like movie trailers — and will discuss them endlessly. Later, we often remember the ads but can’t remember the product they’re promoting. And with rare exceptions, they have almost no capacity to influence consumer behavior “on the ground.”


Update: Here are the 20 most shared Super Bowl ads of all time. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fun. But my guess is that an analysis would show that only one or two of these ads had any quantifiable sales-related impact at all.

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8 Responses to “Brand Advertisers Poised to Waste Millions on the Super Bowl”

  1. Neal says at

    There is a lot more to the Super Bowl halo than driving sales. There is the ability to wine and dine the best customers, the best vendors, the owners who knows. It is one of the few events that is watched real time.  The real opportunity is for those advertisers to take the tv audience and lead them to online and mobile experiences that extend the Super Bowl ad experience. Gee – this year it would soure be great advertising if the weed industry could be party to the event. 

  2. Greg says at

    GoDaddy has been a pretty successful SB advertiser — in part because no other registrar has any brand recognition. So they were able to create a brand and fill a void through their SB ads. This is an exception in my view.

  3. Faith Warren says at

    Interesting post Greg.  Your comment brings up the core point – even if sales aren’t immediately impacted by these high priced commercials, there is a lot to be said for brand awareness.  Having the budget to play in this space, like GoDaddy, can keep your brand recognition high enough to eliminate potential newcomers from targeting your demographic.

  4. Greg says at

    Yes . . . I’m not an advocate of pure DR thinking. There’s a lot to be said for awareness and brand advertising. Again in some cases SB ads will work well. However where the brand or the product are poor it’s unlikely. 

    GoDaddy is an interesting case. Their ads were sleazy but they “worked.” Now the company is changing its image. And SB ads can help with that. If there were other strong competitors in the space those Danica Patrick ads might not have worked as well. 

  5. Survey: 81 Percent See Super Bowl Commercials Purely As Entertainment says at

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  6. Brendan says at

    As usual an interesting/provoking piece Greg – and supported with links to other sources supporting your position.  Alas, this is mostly a lost art in today’s tech-industry writing.

    I am left wondering, however, what the alternatives for that $4M spending would be which would likely drive a greater return … that would be an interesting follow-up – to show 3 other ways that one of these brand advertisers could leverage the investment to greater outcomes.  I bet you have a few ideas…

  7. Greg Sterling says at

    Hey Brendan:

    I think that not all SB ad spending will be wasted. Exceptionally good creative and thoughtful tie-ins can have a powerful impact on awareness and brand perception. I’m particularly struck by the new non-SB Chipolte “series.”

  8. Brendan says at

    Yes – agree with you there.  There is some (even great) value if you have the scale and integrate it well with other channels vs. simply broadcasting a one-and-done campaign.  Though I do think that the payback period on that sort of obscene spend is measured, for some, in light years.  Parallel to that: lots of those buying decisions can probably be traced to either 1-desperation or 2-ego.

  9. Greg Sterling says at

    Most agencies and brands (even with their irreverence) are pretty “straight” and conventional. One could imagine some stunt where an advertiser “hacked the Super Bowl” and got news coverage rather than paying for airtime during the broadcast. 

  10. Will Chipotle "Series" Usher In Era Of Advertainment says at

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