Advertising During the Super Bowl: A Mixed Bag

  |  January 23, 2001   |  Comments

A time will come when advertising dot-coms on the Super Bowl will make sense. But this year find out why you're better off to just sit back and watch the game.

We know now (and we really knew then) that advertising a dot-com during the Super Bowl is usually a bad idea. At $2 million per 30-second spot, even the best ad may do nothing but reduce your bottom line.

But when does it make sense to get an ad during the "Big Game"? Julie Pahutski, a senior vice president at Empower MediaMarketing (EM2) in Cincinnati, has been studying this question for the last few years and thinks she has some answers.

EM2, in case you don't know, is one of the country's largest media buyers, having purchased over $650 million in ads last year. Its study focused on how people watch commercials during the Super Bowl.

First let's hear the good news. "Our study showed most people paid more attention to Super Bowl ads than regular TV ads," she said. People are almost 40 percent more likely to remember your ad if it debuts during the Super Bowl than at any other time. Now the bad news: "The average spot is recalled by 10 percent of people," meaning just 14 percent remember Super Bowl ads. The higher attentiveness is worth a premium price, but prices for Super Bowl ads are 200 percent higher than average, Pahutski noted.

For some advertisers, however, this makes sense. "Master Lock put their entire media budget into the Super Bowl for years, with the bullet in the lock ads." The problem develops when over a dozen ads vie for attention in a single category, as dot-commers did during the 2000 Super Bowl. Last year 17 dot-coms were advertising during the game, Pahutski said.

This year only two are expected, Monster.com and E*TRADE, and E*TRADE may best be considered a financial service advertiser. Pahutski said that a single Super Bowl ad -- one that is funny, surprising, or tells a story -- makes sense only if your total ad budget is 10 times the size of the buy. In other words, if you run one Super Bowl ad for $2 million, you need a $20 million ad budget to reinforce that message the rest of the year.

The best Super Bowl ads will also be different from other ads because they're watched differently. "Most people watch with at least one more person," she said, and "20 percent of viewers watch with six or more people." It's more of a movie experience than a typical TV experience.

So the best Super Bowl ads have a lot in common with movie trailers. Everyone remembers the "1984" ad for Apple's Macintosh (which ran once), and many remember the game of HORSE Michael Jordan and Larry Bird played for McDonald's French fries.

Pahutski recalled the "bad cheetah" ad for Mountain Dew, the "exploding mosquito" for TABASCO. Sauce, and the Nike "runner" ad with celebrity endorsements playing behind the runner. These are typical of winning Super Bowl campaigns. They advertise consumer products and snack foods. Big companies that will repeat their ads a lot are like a solid defense in the Super Bowl ad wars. In case you were asleep the last few months, it's defense that wins championships.

Is all this just 20-20 hindsight? Not really. A time will come (as the Internet grows) when it will make sense for dot-com companies to be on the game again. When that time comes, learn from past mistakes. But this year I'd just enjoy the game. (Pick the Giants, and take the points.)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dana Blankenhorn

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business reporter for more than 20 years. He has written parts of five books and currently contributes to Advertising Age, Business Marketing, NetMarketing, the Chicago Tribune, Boardwatch, CLEC Magazine, and other publications. His own newsletter, A-Clue.Com, is published weekly.

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