Super Bowl ads are crazy expensive, but they generate a ton of attention, and not all during the actual game. The question is, do the pros outweigh the cons?
In addition to being one of the biggest sporting events of the year, the Super Bowl is also, well, the Super Bowl of advertising. Traditionally, the biggest brands show off their best work at the Big game, often garnering just as much spotlight as the teams playing it.
The question is, do they need to?
It’s not as straightforward as “yes” or “no.” Here are two of the biggest pros and cons.
Con: Super Bowl ads get most of their buzz before the game
Just about everyone who’s anyone still advertises during the Super Bowl, but the digital age has changed the procedure. Very few ads debut during the actual game anymore, generating pre-game buzz with early releases. By the time Super Bowl Sunday rolled around last year, we had already seen commercials – or at the very least, teasers – for most of the more prominent advertisers, such as Coca-Cola, Microsoft, McDonald’s, BMW and Budweiser.
“What digital has done is add dimension and participation to what was historically a monolithic event. Everyone feels more connected, versus passively sitting there and passively watching commercials, waiting for Monday morning to talk about it at the water cooler,” says Chris Lehmann, managing director of Landor’s San Francisco office.
The Internet’s favorite ad from Super Bowl XLIX was Budweiser’s “Lost Dog.” The commercial had amassed 19 million YouTube views before it even aired, as well as 240,000 Twitter mentions by Monday morning.
By Tuesday, nobody cared, according to research from this summer. Whether the majority of consumers felt a disconnect with the pastoral setting – associating Budweiser more with summer than any other season – or because the ad lacked actual beer, “Lost Dog,” while a successful ad on social, ultimately didn’t result in any brand lift.
Meanwhile, Newcastle Brown Ale earned a 416 percent brand lift with “If We Made It” the previous year. The campaign was a series of ads that were all about what the brand would have done had it opted to create a “overwhelming mega huge football TV ad.”
Pro: Super Bowl ads do still generate buzz, though
Whether or not they debut during the game, Super Bowl ads are highly visible. Newcastle found a clever way to capitalize on that without actually paying, a tongue-in-cheek strategy for which it’s become known. Last year, the British beer brand entered Doritos’ annual Crash the Super Bowl contest.
Newcastle’s stunts are always funny, but they point to the fact that Super Bowl ads are a big deal. Budweiser didn’t get a brand lift from “Lost Dog,” but how much brand lift did it really need?
Budweiser is already a household name; according to statistics portal Statista, Bud Light was the top-selling beer of 2015, with more than $2 billion in sales. That’s nearly double the revenue of second-place Coors Lite, and without factoring in the $718 million in Bud Heavy sales.
Another of last year’s Super Bowl winners had the opposite experience. Nobody knew Loctite last January, but the German glue brand took a gamble and invested its entire 2015 marketing budget into the Super Bowl. The ad was totally nuts, but more than that, it put Loctite on the map in a way that was unlikely to happen otherwise.
“You can’t deny the appeal of having 100+ million viewers from every demographic sitting down emotionally charged and suddenly saying, ‘I get 30 seconds in front of these people,'” says Lehmann. “The sex appeal of that isn’t going away, whether you’re reinforcing or introducing a brand.”
Con: Super Bowl ads are really expensive
Loctite’s entire marketing budget that went toward Super Bowl? Somewhere around $4.5 million. That staggering amount of money could buy you 1,130,653 tubes of Loctite superglue on Amazon, or 225,112 fanny packs on Overstock.com.
From 2006 to 2015, Super Bowl ad prices have skyrocketed 76 percent from $2.5 million and the total amount of advertising has increased by nearly four minutes. The cost has gone up yet again. While ad length, placement and pre-game coverage affect each brand’s price, CBS is charging up to $5 million for a 30-second spot in Super Bowl 50.
No brand spends more than Anheuser-Busch, whose Super Bowl ads over that 10-year period totaled $278.3 million. Jon Swallen, chief research officer at Kantar Media, points out that you can’t compare that with the Super Bowl strategy of a smaller brand, like website builder Wix.
“Wix needs to achieve brand lift from that one ad and if it does, it’s measurable and traceable because it doesn’t have a lot of other market pressure out there. Budweiser spends several hundred millions of dollars on advertising and has a higher awareness. Budweiser brand managers aren’t expecting to get a big lift from that one commercial because it’s part of a much larger marketing program,” says Swallen.
Pro: Super Bowl ads are now multichannel
One advantageous aspect of the digital age is that Super Bowl commercials go beyond the TV. Last year’s big game was the most social Super Bowl ever. From kickoff to the final buzzer, there were more than 28.4 million Tweets, in addition to the 65 million Facebook users posting about the game.
Social has become so entrenched in the Super Bowl that 57 percent of ads included a hashtag, which Kantar Media found to be the most popular call-to-action mechanism. Coca-Cola’s #MakeItHappy was trending well through next day, while Procter & Gamble’s #LikeAGirl was tweeted more than 403,000 times throughout the game.
Last week, Google launched a new real-time ad format which includes inventory on both Google Display Network and YouTube, and allows advertisers to trigger promos around big events. It’s similar to the way brands use Twitter, though it’s all planned in advance. That won’t allow for any Oreo moments, but it shows that the search giant has recognized the power of real-time multichannel Super Bowl marketing.
The $5 million dollar question: is it necessary?
The Internet has given way for so many marketing channels that a Super Bowl ad may not be as necessary as it was, say, in the 90s. But Lehmann and Swallen agree that it’s still beneficial.
For a lesser-known brand like Wix or Loctite, the exposure is invaluable. For a powerhouse brand, it’s still important, just in a different way. The idea that Coca-Cola and Budweiser are too big to need the Super Bowl can be translated to, if they’re so well-known, why do they even advertise at all?
“If you stop marketing, you’ll save a whole lot of money in the short run, but in the long run, you’re going to be cannibalizing the health of your brand. The temptation is to take a look at high-profile advertising events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars as one-off elements, but to larger brands, they’re building blocks in part of much larger marketing campaigns,” comments Swallen.
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