How Do You Know You Just Wasted $4.5 Million on a Super Bowl Ad

is super bowl advertising worth it

is super bowl advertising worth it
While most of you watched the Super Bowl last night, I was tracking the game of Facebook (my Twitter feed just moved too fast) – mostly for mentions of Super Bowl ads. And, if Super Bowl advertising success mapped to mentions on Facebook, Nationwide won, hands down.

Now, you might ask why an ad that created so much discomfort was my pick for the winning Super Bowl ad, it’s because folks mentioned the ad so much. It doesn’t really matter that folks didn’t like the ad or thought it was a real “downer”, they talked about it. And, 2 days from now, the association between Nationwide and a dead kid will fade, leaving only the memory of having seen Nationwide mentioned a lot by people you know and respect.

Question: What is success for a Super Bowl Ad?

This is really the $54 Million question — how do we define success of any ad — a Super Bowl ad, in this example?

By certain metrics, a Super Bowl ad, even at $4.5 million, is a deal. For that $4.5 million, you get over 100 million viewers (or 200 million eyeballs). Certainly, that number doesn’t approach the 1.25 billion users on Facebook, which begs the question of why advertisers don’t just scrap their Super Bowl ad in favor of spending $4.5 million on promoted posts on Facebook (and I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg lies awake at night trying to figure out this conundrum).

Which brings us back to our initial question — how to define the success of a Super Bowl ad?

Super Bowl ad success

Obviously, the ultimate measure of success for a Super Bowl ad (or any ad) is whether it makes the cash register ring. And, some Super Bowl advertising hit a home run (sorry to mix metaphors) when it comes to ringing the cash register.

Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad capitalized on the book, 1984, by George Orwell and saved the brand from the debacle cause when John Scully (and the Apple board) thought running a technology company like a soft drink business (Scully was formerly at Pepsi) made sense.

Coke hit the ball out of the park with their commercial featuring “Mean” Joe Green during the Steelers heyday.

ROI of Super Bowl ads

But, overall, the ROI of a Super Bowl ad is a mixed bag with some winners and many losers. GoDaddy, for instance, produced the worst Super Bowl ad for several years running and their misstep this year (scrapping their planned commercial at the last-minute when faced with overwhelming criticism from animal rights groups led to a last-minute replacement that fell flat — again).

According to CNBC, perennial winners Budweiser and Coke pulled of wins again this year, with their cute ads we won’t forget any time soon. Of course, with the pressure both face from competition, this might not be enough to save the brands from their downward spiral (Coke faces pressure from waters and teas as health conscious consumers swap out high calorie drinks and Budweiser faces threats as the market falls in love with craft brews).

Yahoo Sports hated my choice of Nationwide as the winner because it was a downer. Others recognize what I did — that folks are talking about Nationwide specifically because the ad stood out and did it in a positive way. Time will tell which of us is right.

Remember, the goal of a Super Bowl ad is to make money, not friends. Just like the popular QB on your high school football team often traded his cleats for a hard hat and the geeky nerd ends up owning a multi-billion dollar company, it’s not popularity that gets rewarded in the long run, but skill. Putting all your marketing effort into creating a popular Super Bowl ad might fade from memory when it comes time to open your wallet while a more memorable ad moves the brand into your consideration set where it influences decisions far into the future.

The changing tone of Super Bowl ads

In the past, funny ads won the hearts of Super Bowl watchers and pundits. In yesterday’s game, advertisers focused on going straight to the hearts with ads full of positive (and negative) emotions.  Recent research suggests these emotional tugs pull at our collective wallets and storytelling reigns supreme as an advertising technique that gets us to buy.

Several Super Bowl ads worked on our hearts yesterday, especially Coke’s effort to highlight the devastating effects of digital bullying and the NFL’s commercial countering recent publicity about domestic violence.  Unilever (Dove) and Budweiser produced ads with less of a social message, but still hit an emotional cord with viewers.

Another change in Super Bowl advertising is social integration. For instance, the Budweiser ad had 42 million views before the kick-off of yesterday’s game.

Surprisingly, more folks watch the Super Bowl for the ads than the game. I remember when I first started teaching asking our A/V department to take my VHS of the game and edit out the game, leaving just the commercials. They thought I was insane. Now, 78% of respondents said they watch for the ads, not the game, according to USAToday.

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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of Hausman Marketing Letter, is a full service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and social media.