The Internet Advertising Pro

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Are Super Bowl Ads Really Worth The Money?

“Are Super Bowl Ads worth the money?”

Well, that is the question of the day. The overall impact of a Super Bowl spot, or any television ad for that matter, is impossible to quantify, and there is, of course, no single answer that applies to all advertisers. What we really want to no is whether we are getting the best return on the investment, as compared to allocating the spend to alternative media options.

Granted, the Super Bowl is a unique media opportunity, unlike any other in it’s ability to reach tens of millions of Americans, all at once, and all paying full attention to the advertisers message. Nothing else can touch that. Then there is all of the (free, so to speak) additional press pre-game press and post-game “buzz” as a result of the commercial. However, the results being to vary, and become less clear, when attempting to measure how this massive spike in brand exposure translates into long term brand memorization, product awareness, and ultimately, sales.

Several studies, like this one by Clickin Research Inc., have concluded that lesser known brands may benefit more than well-known names, in terms of increases in brand familiarity after airing Super Bowl commercials. In fact, the studies demonstrate there is little or no measurable increase in brand familiarity or likeability among well-established brands.

Most of last year’s Super Bowl advertisers, including America Online and Monster.com, did not buy time this year, which may be an indication of the lack of tangible return from last year's ads. Mitsubishi’s ad last year, for the Galant sedan, directed large volumes of traffic to the company’s web site in the time immediately following the airing of the ad. However, sales of the Galant plummeted 33% in 2004, while the company’s overall US sales fell 37%.

We are all aware of the list of dot coms who burned their cash stockpiles on Super Bowl spots in the late 90’s. A Super Bowl presence brings glamour and prestige, but a Super Bowl ad is not a replacement for good market research and a solid marketing plan. Advertisers must be able to deliver a product that consumers want.

Super Bowl advertising is not for a company who will be spending all or most of their entire ad budget on the spot. While the Super Bowl ad may be a good way to immediately boost awareness of a lesser-known brand, the message must be repeated in ordered to sustain any increase. The studies are based on pre-game and post-game surveys, all taken within a 24-hour period, and do not attempt to measure longer-term impact. Let’s face it, the American public is quick to forget, and that’s not taking into account the average blood alcohol content of over 0.10% on this day.


Looking at CareerBuilder’s “Monkey” campaign as an example, an estimated $5 million was spent on 1 minute of commercial time, plus an assortment of sponsorship positions. The ads are not ranking well in post-game surveys, and alone, they may not have produced any substantial gain in brand familiarity or likeability. However, these ads were only a small part of a $200 million cross channel campaign that will include other TV spots, radio, online (their user are all on the Internet after all), and print media. The continual repeating of the message will keep the brand in the public eye for months longer than the initial ads alone would have been retained.

This then brings up the question “Did they really need the Super Bowl component of this campaign?”. Well, to that there is no definitive answer. There is no question they got the one-of-a-kind exposure, and brand association, that only a Super Bowl ad can create. Assuming that two thirds of the audience watched the commercials, they reached 57 million consumers, all at once, and had their complete attention for 1 minute. On the other hand, they did pay $84 CPM for the privilege, and there is some question as to the audience retention, past the short-term. Now, if we take that same $4.8 million spend and allocate it as 50% regular prime time television, and 50% online, we increase exposure to over 1.3 Billion total impressions, over a several month period. The shear reach and frequency of a campaign this size would guarantee virtually complete brand recognition and product awareness of the advertiser. Not to mention, we have only spent 2.4% of the total budget.