Viewpoint: Few advertisers benefit from Super Bowl ads

Source: Business Insider

Go see Volkswagen’s Super Bowl ad, “The Dog Strikes Back,” on YouTube and let me know if you like it. I’m guessing you will.

Yet, it’s hard to imagine exposure during the Super Bowl is worth the cost. The average CPM (cost per 1,000 households) during primetime TV was just over $22 this past year. The CPM for the Super Bowl is over three times that at about $76. If the brand wants to gain exposure to its target audience, there are far cheaper and better targeted alternatives.

So exposure and its associated objective of gaining awareness can’t be the reason for advertising in the Super Bowl.

Brands and agencies representing mass-marketed and frequently consumed products by the majority of Americans might argue their target audiences widely overlap with the 160 million who tune in for at least part of the game. That argument fails first on the facts of CPM. I love Honda’s 2012 Super Bowl ad, but will it succeed?

What percentage of the audience are viable targets? Let’s take car manufacturers like VW and Honda. Americans on average now keep their cars for over 10 years. Let’s suppose maybe even two in 10 is in the market for a new car. That means 80 percent of the audience might even like the ad, but the information is immaterial to them. What we know from research is they won’t much like the ad because they won’t even pay attention. Audiences tune out if product involvement is low.

Look at last year’s least popular ads, and you’ll find automotive leading the way. All of those Super Bowl advertisers are spending $3.5 million for 30 seconds to talk to a fraction of the audience.

The second major issue is a matter of relatedness and context. Does the brand and the advertising fit with the sports/entertainment context of the Super Bowl?

Budweiser, Pepsi and Coke may seem to make sense, as they are a part of the fan experience in many sports venues. The question is do they really gain anything else by being in the Super Bowl, given that they already hit this audience hard and heavy the rest of the year? My studied guess is that brand loyalty among sports fans for these sports advertisers is no better off because of the Super Bowl, since they have already saturated this market.

Here’s what we know about how advertising succeeds in national and international sporting events:

1. The brand advertising must somehow relate to the event. We more easily process information that is congruent or similar. So ads that are entertaining and tie into the sport/event make sense. Last year’s information-based Verizon iPhone 4 announcement and HomeAway ad (both ranked in the bottom 20 percent in USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter) exemplify this failure. What? You don’t remember those? Me neither.

2. The brand must be prominent and familiar. Prominent, well-known brands are already stored in memory and easy to retrieve. Unknown brands must be learned and associated within the current mental framework accessible (viz., the Super Bowl) to be recalled. Among official Super Bowl advertisers, creative ads where the product is only tangential to the content will suffer (see last year’s Lipton Brisk ad with the Eminem claymation). In an entertainment environment, we simply won’t work that hard to make the mental connection.

3. The brand must add value to the event. Viewers must believe the event is better off because of the brand. They would miss the brand if it wasn’t there. When fans connect the brand and the event like that, the two share the same mental space. That’s when the fan’s passion for the event transfers to the brand. The Doritos campaign involving fan creations of ads for the Super Bowl achieves this goal.

What brands will fail in the Super Bowl?

The reason to be in the Super Bowl (compared to other media options) is for fan passion to transfer to the brand. This can happen if the brand is related, prominent and adds value to the event. With that in mind, let’s use H&M’s David Beckham ad as a likely failure.

David Beckham has nothing to do with American football. His Q-score (a measure of celebrity popularity) in America is in the neighborhood of 20, which maybe better than Eli Manning (19) or Tom Brady (15) but not anywhere close to Peyton Manning (40) in recent years. H-M, a UK-based department store, is not prominent or familiar to the audience.

Obviously they are trying to introduce themselves in a big way through the Super Bowl. But one look at the ad itself will tell you the audience will not work that hard to encode the message H-M is trying to communicate.

Since the ad content is irrelevant to the Super Bowl, few in the audience will associate the brand with the event. No one will be watching next year for the H-M ad, and no one will miss it if they are smart enough to save their money in 2013.

Another likely set of losers belong to Hollywood. Movie trailers are already readily available to movie-goers. Hence, the entire exposure is pretty much wasted. The intended audience has already seen it or will see it soon.

Not many would be surprised if we conclude that some members of Hollywood suffer from pride, which would explain a lot of why the networks can continue to raise Super Bowl ad rates and advertisers continue to pay them.

Kirk Wakefield earned a MBA in entrepreneurship at Baylor in 1981 and is the Edwin W. Streetman professor of retail marketing at Baylor.