Is advertising in the Super Bowl really worth it??

One of the questions I have been asking for years is whether advertising at the Super Bowl is really worth it.  There is no doubt that this annual event, almost a holiday onto itself now, has a huge viewing audience. The commercials that run during the game have almost become an event onto themselves, and have occasionally been more entertaining than the game itself.  For days after, they are analyzed, rated, and commented on year after year after year.  But does that mean that spending over $3,500,000 on average for 30 seconds really results in more sales?

The raw viewing numbers are huge.  For this year’s event, NBC (Nielsen actually) estimated an average of 111.3 million total viewers tuned in to watch the underdog New York Giants hold off the New England Patriots 21-17 in a seesaw game that went down to the final moments.  Another calculation was that an estimated that 177 million viewers, or more than 56% of the current U.S. population, watched at least six minutes of the game. For comparison, that “reach” was  comparable to an entire cycle of the Olympics, spread over two weeks of days/nights.

However, even with those numbers, is it really worth it?  When you consider that over 300 million people live in America, that means just 35% of the country tuned into the game (and the commercials).  And if you were at a Super Bowl party, how many of the people there really watched the game or the commercials closely?

In past Super Bowls, one of my criticisms of the advertising was I saw little connection made between spending those millions and actual sales generated.  You will find very little solid evidence that companies actually measure sales as a result of the advertising.  Instead, they will talk about eyeballs, reach, CPM’s, and all kinds of things that marketing people and ad agencies will use to justify spending the money.  You should also note that the $3.5 million cost of the ad this year does NOT include the production costs to make it.

For example, the online website registration company of “Go Daddy” has become well known for their solicitous, high sexual in nature ads.  Here is the best “results” I could find about how well their ads translated into actual sales (I added the underlining to key comments):

“…Go Daddy says that Go Daddy’s “Body Paint” ad accounted for a tremendous Internet spike during the game that coincides with a peak point in Web traffic, as reported by Akamai Technologies, a company that monitored Internet usage during the Super Bowl. Go Daddy did not reveal though how big of a spike we are talking about...”

Notice they do not say how many actual sales results from their ads.

The good news for marketers is that with the advent of newer technologies such as mobile text marketing and Twitter, companies can now get some immediate indication of the impact these ads had.  For example, this year on an ad shown during the game, the National Football League asked contest participants to text a message to register for a $1 million contest running next season. The “NFL Perfect Challenge” contest drew 1.7 million text-message responses. The NFL says the “…conversion rate was higher than the industry average….” (Source).  Once again, I see words like “conversion rate”, but not the words “sales”.  I was one of the 1.7 million that did join the contest.  I got one text message back from the NFL but haven’t heard a thing since then.

The other quick response darling, Twitter, said they hit a peak of 12K tweets per second during Super Bowl (Source).   Two questions from that factoid:  1) did any sales result from all of those tweets?, and 2) does anyone ever just talk to anyone any more (or is my age just showing)??

So next time you are with a potential Yellow Page advertiser (as in print, online, or mobile) ask them whether they would love to advertise at the Super Bowl (assuming that money was not an issue).  When they start foaming at the mouth, take them thru a reality ROI calculation vs. your product and help them come back to earth.  Because at ROI’s of AT LEAST 10-to-1, nothing beats Yellow Pages (again talking print, online, or mobile).  Not even the Super Bowl…

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