Emily Hudson, a student on the Creative Brand Management track at the VCU Brandcenter, weighs up the real value of a Big Game spot
It’s the question that plagues the nation’s biggest brands every year. The ad buys for the Super Bowl are astronomical, reaching just over $5 million for a 30-second spot. Live TV is losing out to streaming services. And consumers are becoming more sceptical; 30 seconds of television is no longer enough to convince them to purchase a product. So, by all accounts, purchasing a Super Bowl ad is a waste. A black hole that sucks out brands’ ad budgets, with little to no measurable return. A desperate attempt to hold onto a dying advertising medium.
And yet, Super Bowl ads sell out consistently every single year. So why are the most successful brands - with finance teams and media specialists and spreadsheet after spreadsheet of data analytics - still choosing to purchase Super Bowl ads?
Of course, Super Bowl ads are much more than just a TV spot - the impressions they receive before, during, and after the Super Bowl are unlike any other live TV event. The earned media possibilities are endless. Most brands use the Super Bowl as a launching point for a much larger campaign. And the Super Bowl is the only time you’ll catch somebody saying, “I only watch for the commercials.” But still, the direct correlation to profit growth is murky at best.
Really, all that brands can know for sure is that they are paying for admission into an elite class of marketers. A class of brands that knows the risk of Super Bowl advertising and still, year after year, says in collective voice: “What I have to say for the next 30 seconds is worth millions.” Whether or not that value is passed on to viewers and the ad sees the virility required to offset its cost is the risk that comes with being in this advertising upper class.
Every year, I spend more time dissecting the list of brands attending than the actual ads themselves. Of course, there are the omnipresent players like Budweiser that we’ve grown to expect on the list. But there’s also a long list of brands that are advertising in the Super Bowl for the first time in years - or the first time ever. This year, big names like Amazon and Kraft will be running Super Bowl ads for the first time, while brands like Stella Artois, M&M’s, and Verizon return after muti-year hiatuses. And what I enjoy seeing even more are the small-name brands that spend a much higher percentage of their advertising budget to join this upper class. Brands like 84 Lumber, whose ad last year
received the most engagement of all 2017 Super Bowl ads, due in part to the nationwide question - “who is that?” This year, I’ve been keeping an eye out for this sub-set of Super Bowl ads, watching under the lens of why these brands decided to join or re-join the fold of Super Bowl advertisers, with so much evidence pointing to its fruitlessness.
I can’t purport to know the dollar-for-dollar ROI of a Super Bowl ad. What I do know is that being a part of this chosen few has its own value—a value that continues to sell out ad slots.