For some people, the suspension of sports due to COVID-19 means ardent sports enthusiasts must watch reruns of past sporting events. So, today, I thought I’d turn my attention to the Super Bowl, uniquely how to craft successful Super Bowl advertising.
Super Bowl advertising is expensive and getting more expensive every year. Costs include not only the price per 30-second spot but the cost of creative, talent, and related expenses. Last year, the price for a single Super Bowl ad approached the $6 million mark — an all-time high, based on this chart from Marketing Charts:
And, regardless of how much revenue you generate, that’s a LOT of money. And, the question firms should ask is: “Was the expense of a Super Bowl ad (or three) worth it?”
Is a Super Bowl ad worth the cost?
In a few highly successful Super Bowl advertising campaigns, such as Apple’s 1984 that introduced the Macintosh, there’s a clear link between the ad and sales performance. The ad only aired once, after a lawsuit filed on behalf of the family of the author, the ad not only impacted sales of the computer, it set the tone for the Apple culture that continues to today. If you’ve never seen the advertisement, I’ve embedded it below.
Indeed, the Super Bowl attracts one of the most massive TV audiences and represents a highly diverse population. Last year, the Super Bowl attracted nearly 100 million viewers or roughly 1/3 of the US population, a figure steadily declining from a high over almost 115 million at its peak in 2015. Viewership is essential, and we often talk about eyeballs as a measure of how many people viewed a particular ad, as it represents the potential market. Further, sports attract viewers in realtime, unlike other TV events where consumers often stream the game at a later time using technologies like TIVO to record or streaming services like HULU. Streaming allows viewers to skip past advertising or eliminated it altogether in paid streaming services. This feature makes sports advertising especially attractive.
That brings us back to our initial question, is Super Bowl advertising worth its high costs? And, the answer to that question is complicated.
First, what does “worth it” mean? Higher revenue? New customers? Increased awareness? Enhanced brand image? Improvements in any one of these variables likely translate to higher income. However, the transformation may take some time, and it’s hard to trace due to the indirect impact of these factors on revenue.
Since a direct correlation between increases in any of the factors mentioned in our first question and the ad is difficult, how do we assess the impact of a Super Bowl ad? Mentions on social media? Recall? Attitude change? Secondary viewership before or after the event on YouTube or another platform? Media mentions, for instance, stations may feature commercials in news reports or even special television events to introduce the ads before the big game. Each of these assessments requires extensive efforts in data collection, including primary research. And that research is expensive. Not only that, but even once we have that data, there’s often no direct correlation with increasing revenue.
Successful Super Bowl advertising
So, we see that it’s possible to succeed in Super Bowl advertising. Studies from Ad Meter show some of the top 5 most successful Super Bowl advertising from last year (2020) were:
- Groundhog Day from Jeep
- Smaht Pahk from Hyundai
- Lorretta from Google
- The Cool Ranch from Doritos
- Comfortable by Rocket Mortgage
Although there are different ways of assessing the best advertising. Here’s another take, from Marketing Charts, on who won big in the 2020 Super Bowl advertising game:
What makes a successful Super Bowl ad?
There’s no consensus on the answer to this question. Some experts suggest it’s the emotional appeal of an ad. However, assessment of emotions often conflates positive and negative emotions, which are by no means equal in their impact on market performance.
Others tout the type of ad, such as humorous advertising that served Budwiser well in its Super Bowl advertising. Some suggest animals and kids do well in advertising.
I suspect that each of these pieces of advice does well when done expertly by the advertising team and when they fit both the brand and its target markets.
Specifically looking at the performance of ads in the 2020 Super Bowl, CNN developed the following suggestions for a successful Super Bowl advertising campaign:
- Sell the product
- Be careful of how you use celebrities. Celebrities do bad things, occasionally. And those evil deeds negatively impact your brand. Think about how revelations of Tiger Wood’s many affairs transferred negative feelings and attitudes to the brands he represented. Even though the brands quickly distanced themselves from the Tiger Woods brand, the damage continues. Since no one can predict which celebrity might go wrong, some advertisers use dead celebrities or unknown actors to gain some protection.
- Pull out all the stops. Your Super Bowl ad should feel unique rather than just any other ad from your brand. Make it stand out as something special while remembering to keep your brand image consistent.
- Use themes that resonate with a broad, diverse audience. You don’t have time to get too wild in 30-seconds. Use memes and metaphors your audience knows. We’ve all had the experience of watching a commercial for a brand, and, by the end, we have no idea the message the brand tried to transmit.
- Don’t get too cute. No one likes a sappy commercial.
- That advice goes for emotional manipulation. It’s hard, but emotions should develop authentically from the ad, not forced by inept ad copy or images.
- Don’t overdo the crudeness or vulgarity of your ad. Godaddy might show a way around this. Each year, the domain reseller gets a bunch of publicity for having its ad banned by the network for inappropriate images or themes.
It’s called an advertising campaign for a reason
But successful Super Bowl advertising means more than creating a slick ad to show audiences at the big game. Advertising revolves around a campaign that includes strategy along with the ad itself.
These elements of a campaign are essential as you craft your successful Super Bowl advertising strategy:
Advertising shouldn’t be a one-shot deal. While Apple successfully launched the Macintosh with a single Super Bowl, most firms would find failure in this strategy.
In general, successful advertising on any platform requires a sustained effort with a consistent message, even though implementation should vary over time to avoid advertising burnout. Studies suggest consumers must view an ad 5-7 times (called frequency) before it impacts their assessments of the brand, although some established brands may find as few as 3 exposures effective.
Employ multiple channels
Generally, part of the advertising campaign involves using various channels before and after the Super Bowl to enhance the performance of the ad. Not only should firms share their ad through social channels before the Super Bowl airs, sending press releases encourages traditional media outlets to discuss their upcoming ad in newscasts and late-night broadcasts.
For instance, long before it aired at the Super Bowl, Hyundai’s ad already created buzz through both traditional and digital media. Sure, it helped that the ad was exciting and entertaining, but the strategy of sharing enhanced anticipation for the ad’s appearance during the game.
Assessing the performance of traditional advertising is hard since there’s no direct connection between an ad and changes in marketing performance. Some brands use a lagged model to track changes in sales soon after a commercial airs and attribute the changes to the ad. While tenuous, this approach makes sense. Pretesting the ad with similar audiences also offers insight into the market impact of the ad. Some firms, like Ad Meter, set up viewing in theaters, equipping viewers with a device that allows feedback on each commercial shown.
In a digital world, a company tracks brand mentions on social media, as well as consumer comments, to assess the impact of advertising on sales. The notion that increased positive mentions of the ad track to increased sales is again tenuous, but it’s better than not having any assessments.
While assessing performance may not map directly to improved sales and has little predictive ability, assessing performance offers insights for optimizing ad campaigns to get the highest ROI possible from your Super Bowl advertising.
The insights shared combine various aspects for successful Super Bowl advertising campaigns. In addition, I include an infographic at the bottom of this post. While it’s a little old, much of the information still applies, and you might find it valuable.
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Infographic by: AYTM Market Research