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Super Bowl – Super Price Tag: Is Super Bowl Advertising Worth It?


The Super Bowl is an enormous event – arguably the biggest in the United States.  And it’s much more than the game itself.  It’s also the parties, the playoff pools, the bloated halftime show and of course the commercials.  Advertising has become an integral part of the event.  But that prominence comes with quite a price tag.  It is being reported that a single 30-second spot for this year’s Super Bowl will come in at around $7 million.

That’s a hefty sum.  For some perspective, before last year’s game, DIGIDAY reported what the cost of a single 30-second Super Bowl ad could purchase in the digital advertising arena.  Their list included 650 million impressions for a Facebook ad or 843 million impressions for a TikTok ad.  In contrast, NBC averaged 112.3 million viewers across its platforms during last year’s Super Bowl.  Clearly, these digital alternatives offer many times the raw impressions.  On the other hand, year-after-year the network carrying the big game consistently sells out the available airtime.  What makes advertising during the Super Bowl worth such a premium price?

Reach

In an age of media fragmentation, the Super Bowl provides pure reach that nothing else can come close to.  Most media channels have a limited audience, and the same people end up being shown the same ads over and over again.  On the other hand, the Super Bowl provides the opportunity to reach over 100 million unique consumers at exactly the same time.  There is no better way for a mass market product or service to reach such a mass audience so efficiently.

Attention

Let’s face it.  For most advertising, many viewers are scheming to skip, ignore or avoid any spot that’s directed their way.  When unskippable, the commercial break is the time for the run to the bathroom, to get a snack, have a conversation or focus attention on a second screen.  But not during the Super Bowl.  In fact, a healthy percentage of Super Bowl viewers rate the ads as being an important if not the primary reason for watching the game.  For example, a 2022 study by Avocado indicated that 42% of Super Bowl viewers tune in specifically for the ads.  The Super Bowl provides an audience that is not interested in skipping the ads, but rather is eagerly awaiting them.

Earned Media

The 100+ million viewers at game time are not the only viewers that advertisers get for their money.  Discussion of the commercials begins weeks before the game, with websites providing running lists of who’s in and links to pre-released versions of some of the ads.   After the game, many websites discuss the ads, rank the ads and provide links to watch them all (USA Today’s Ad Meter being the most well-known example).  This fascination with Super Bowl ads provides brands with many additional impressions for their ads outside of the live Super Bowl broadcast, even among consumers who aren’t interested in watching the game itself.

Buzz

Super Bowls get people talking, including about the ads; sometimes especially about the ads.  In 2022, a University of Minnesota study looked at how Super Bowl ads affect word-of-mouth marketing for brands.  This refers to consumers talking about a product or service with others.  The study found a 16% increase in total word-of-mouth (both online and offline conversations) for the month after the game.  This suggests that the Super Bowl audience is not just talking about the entertainment aspect of the ads, but also the products or services themselves.  This could be particularly relevant for brands in categories for which recommendations are an important factor in the purchase decision.

Storytelling

An emotional connection between the brand and its customers is vital to building long-term equity.  In fact, MSW has found that, along with Relevance and Differentiation, an Emotional Connection is one of the three pillars of long-term brand building.  Storytelling in ads is one way to build this emotional bond.  However, the trend toward shorter ads makes this difficult.  It is almost impossible to tell a compelling story in 15 seconds.  Super Bowl ads tend to buck this trend as most spots are 30 or even 60 seconds in length.  And many do endeavor to tell the type of story that is rarely seen in typical television advertising.  This provides agencies with the perfect opportunity to reinforce the brand’s place not just in consumers’ minds, but in their hearts as well.

Engagement

MSW has found that the effectiveness of advertising is amplified among viewers who are more engaged in the content.  In fact, television ad effectiveness has been found to be amplified by 35%, on average, among engaged audiences.  As measured by the MSW ad amplification metric, characteristics of engagement include heightened attention, immersion and losing track of time, all of which may characterize a football fan’s viewing experience, particularly in a big game.

Of course, it is not generally an either/or situation for brands advertising in the Super Bowl, as a large marketing budget is a must for brands entertaining the possibility of a Super Bowl ad.  To make the most of the Super Bowl investment, brands will coordinate other marketing efforts such as social media and their websites.  For example, last year Taco Bell used Doja Cat to tease its Super Bowl promotion ahead of the game on TikTok.

Beyond the reasons discussed above, here are a few thoughts on some other specific circumstances in which a brand may consider Super Bowl advertising:

  1. Launch of a new product:  New products only have a short time to establish themselves.  While estimates vary and categories differ, it is clear that a lot of new products fail.  What better way is there to get the word out quickly about a new product than by introducing it to over 100 million people all at once?  In last year’s Super Bowl, we saw introductions in CPG (Bud Light Next), EVs (Chevy Silverado, which is still not actually available) and even a rollercoaster (Jurassic World Velocicoaster), to name a few.

  2. Promote place in a new category:  Building salience for a brand in an emerging category is critically important, as becoming an early leader is a huge advantage.  The Super Bowl’s vast audience is a great way to aid in achieving this, which is why last year featured multiple ads in such emerging categories as Cryptocurrency Exchanges, Online Sportsbooks, Electric Vehicles and Online Car Dealers.  The association with the Super Bowl can even lend legitimacy to a new category such as with Crypto Exchanges (whether deserved or not).

  3. Take advantage of timing:  Sometimes Super Bowl advertising makes sense on the basis of current trends.  As the nation and world were emerging from travel restrictions due to the COVID pandemic at the time of last year’s game, we saw ads for travel websites, airlines and a theme park.  On a seasonal basis, ads in the tax preparation category make sense given the game coincides with the start of tax season.

  4. Build association with NFL football:  It’s no coincidence that ads for chips, beer and soft drinks are Super Bowl staples given their natural place in game watching.  But other types of brands may wish to cultivate an association with the NFL given that football is easily the most followed sport in the U.S. (by around three-quarters of sports fans per Statista).

Given the size of the investment, clearly advertisers want to get their Super Bowl ad right.  No one wants their ad to reside at the bottom of the Best & Worst Super Bowl Ads list.  This requires proper planning and research – which in fact, benefits advertising of all kinds.  Please contact MSW to find out how our research solutions can benefit your brand.

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