Super Bowl Advertising: Lots of Buzz… But is it Worth it?

THE PROBLEM

2013 drew almost 111 million viewers watching in real time and devoting high levels of attention to the entire Super Bowl experience. Despite the “buzz around the bowl,” however, many question whether or not advertising in the game is worth the investment. This is quite understandable when the ad time itself is close to $4.2 million for 30 seconds and costs often exceed $10 million when including production costs.

Ronald Goodstein, Associate Professor at Georgetown University, provides a unique perspective to this perennial question. He suggests there are factors within the game that affect the overall processing of, and opinions toward, advertisements and brands. Fluctuating fan affect (fan’s perceptions of ads are a product of game score and momentum), combined with varied viewer motivations, and male-centered advertising, render the expenses of advertising during the game unadvisable for many.

In a recent study Professor Goodstein asked, (1) Does what is happening in the game itself affect how consumers process, remember, and evaluate the advertised brands? (2) Does it matter if you are a fan of one of the teams? To answer these questions, Professor Goodstein asked respondents about their perceptions of advertisements and the brand sponsors running them immediately after the Super Bowl and after a one week delay.

THE FINDINGS

The results of the study both verify many intuitions and provide unique insights on the effectiveness of Super Bowl ads. For example, both immediately after the game and one week later, men liked the advertisements and advertised brands more than women liked them. When it came to the amount of advertising, the results clearly suggested that less is more. Longer advertisements were actually less liked than were shorter advertisements; this was also true both immediately after and one week later. Brands that ran multiple ads were less liked than brands that ran a single ad. Similarly, ads from brands that were mentioned as a sponsor were less liked than brands that were not mentioned as a sponsor.

Perhaps most interesting though was the impact of the game itself on liking of advertisements. There was a significant effect of the team the viewer was rooting for, i.e., fans of the winning team had better opinions of the advertisements and brands. This was true both immediately after the game and one week later. This effect could be traced down to fluctuations in the game itself. Advertisements that aired when the eventual winning team was leading in score, or when they were judged to have the “momentum” of the game, were better liked.

Goodstein also found a significant impact of Super Bowl viewers’ motivation. Those who were “watching for the advertisements” liked the advertisements more immediately after the game. However, those who were “watching for the game” liked the advertisements and brands more one week after.

IMPLICATIONS & CONCLUSIONS

What do these results mean for brands and advertisers? Three implications can be drawn from Professor Goodstein’s findings. The fact that men liked the ads and brands better than women did is likely due to the nature of the ads themselves, which are more male-oriented (e.g., sexual connotations and male interest topics). As a result, advertisers have two options, safely conforming to the standard by targeting males with their Super Bowl ads, or risk flaunting conventions with an ad that generates significant buzz for its uniqueness.

The negative correlations between the length of the ads (and number of ads) in the Super Bowl and viewers’ overall opinion of the ad suggests that it may be beneficial for advertisers to run one short and concise commercial. The 60 second Super Bowl ad, multiple runs of a 30 second ad, or different ads for the same brand may not be the biggest bang for the advertisers’ buck.

Fans of the game itself liked ads and brands less immediately, but after a delay, they had greater liking than did those watching for commercials. Those watching for commercials displayed the opposite pattern. These effects, together with the significant impact of a team’s performance and game outcome on fans’ views of advertisements and brands suggest Super Bowl ads may not be worth the cost.

Ronald Goodstein

Associate Professor

Ronald Goodstein is Associate Professor of Marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Dr. Goodstein is on the executive education staff of both the McDonough School of Business and the Georgetown Center for Professional Development. Additionally, he is an invited professor to several other prestigious in-house executive programs at several of the Fortune Top 100 firms. His executive teaching and consulting are in the areas of customer focus, building long-term customer partnerships, strategic marketing management and positioning, building and managing brand equity, integrated marketing communications, ethnicity in marketing, and consumer behavior. His work in these areas has been taught to some of the world’s leading companies. This list includes CR Bard, Dow, Amoco, Shell Oil, HSBC, Credit Suisse, Lexis/Nexis, M&M Mars, Kimberly-Clark, Siemens AG, Lincoln Financial, The World Bank, DPC (now a division of Siemens medical), the City of Los Angeles, and the National Head Start Organization. He has also served as an expert in these domains to several prominent law firms, including his most recent work with Williams & Connolly in Washington, DC, and in his advisement work to Prophet and Vivaldi brand Leadership (brand consulting management firms).

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