Super Bowl XLVIII was a blowout from a football perspective but a definite mixed bag for its advertisers. While the $4mm per :30 seconds cost seemed excessive to some, others were all in, purchasing up to two minutes worth of commercial time for a single commercial message. Add in production and promotion costs, and some advertisers actually forked over $20 million or more for the privilege of being a Super Bowl advertiser.
Was it worth it? We believe that advertising should make people buy products, or at least build purchase interest. Our annual Super Bowl study (based on a longitudinal design in which we interview the same people at two points in time) tracks changes in individual consumers’ purchase behavior/intentions and relates these changes to their Super Bowl commercial engagement. The Communicus Super Bowl XLVIII results, for the second year in a row, show that four out of five commercials failed to deliver when judged against this standard.
Many of the most effective commercials were for new or unfamiliar products. The Super Bowl is an excellent venue for making news on the basis of the unmatched, enormous, attentive audience available to advertisers. As advertisers like Anheuser Busch, Mercedes Benz and Butterfingers have learned over the years with successful launches for new beer brands, car models and confections, it’s very possible to build awareness and purchase interest for a new product with a single Super Bowl exposure. Established brands often have a harder time changing ingrained attitudes and behaviors with a single commercial. As such, three of the top four Super Bowl XLVIII performances were delivered by new or unfamiliar brands, with Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups and Beats Music taking the #1 and #2 spots, respectively, with Squarespace in the #4 position.
Super Bowl commercials that were the most successful in generating positive change for the advertised brands included spots with a range of creative strategies and formats, but all had one thing in common – they did not forget about the star of the show: the brand. For Kia, Lawrence Fishburne was a perfect co-star to illuminate the ‘new world of luxury’, and succeeded in building purchase interest and generating actual investigations of the Kia K900. But, celebs don’t always work – our research has shown that celebrities can help sell cars, but aren’t the right fit for every situation or category.
Chevy, for example, didn’t need a celebrity to gain attention or to sell the Silverado. The ‘Romance’ spot put a witty twist on an on-going campaign, in a way that was a perfect fit with the brand personality, and actually still managed to depict a convincing emotional relationship between ‘a man and his truck’.
Advertisers who generated a lot of attention for their spots but didn’t strengthen viewer’s interest in buying the brand included M&M’s, Cheerios, Dannon’s Oikos Yogurt, and two of the most-talked about commercials in the game, Budweiser’s Puppy Love and Coca-Cola’s It’s Beautiful.
Social media gained tremendous industry attention once again, but continues to engage a fairly narrow group of those who were already brand fans. The value of these social engagements, however, is noteworthy. Social encourages a conversation in an environment where consumers discuss the brand and (especially in the case of the Super Bowl) the commercial. Compared to the Super Bowl TV environment, where the advertiser talks AT the consumer, social often does a better job of boosting brand affinity (e.g., it’s for people like me), which typically translates to purchasing.
So how do you make the Super Bowl buy worth it? Make the brand the first priority. Put the brand on a pedestal. After all, the advertisers who created spots that cause consumers to think, ‘Wow, that was a great commercial!’ may have won the popularity contests, but those who generated reactions of ‘Wow, I’d really like to buy one of those!’ are the ones that win at the cash register.