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Super Bowl Ad Effectiveness: Is the Spend Worth $5 Million?

January 15th, 2019   ||    by Todd Wasserman

Traditionally, every Super Bowl is a record year as the cost of a 30-second ad during the game climbs ever higher. This year might be an exception. As of late October, the price of such spots was hovering around $5 million, per Ad Age. That’s about the same as last year.

We’ll see if that trend holds, with Super Bowl ad effectiveness up in the air. The game drew 7 percent fewer viewers in February 2018, according to Variety. Ratings for NFL regular season games have also been falling over the past few years, though the 2018 season seems to have bucked that trend.

For marketers, meanwhile, the big question is whether a 30-second ad is worth the high price tag. That’s been an eternal debate, especially as media consumption habits change.

Is a buy in the 2019 Super Bowl a good idea? Here’s a look at both sides of the argument.

Con: You May Not Get the Most Bang for Your Buck

One way to simplify this argument is to assume that a brand only has $5 million to spend for the year. Is a 30-second spot the best bet? First, think of the ads you saw earlier this year: Did any of them prompt you to buy the advertised product?

If not, you’re in the majority. A 2017 Communicus study found that 80 percent of Super Bowl ads don’t change consumers’ opinions or intentions about the brand.

Why might these ads work poorly? Super Bowl ad effectiveness often has nothing to do with how well an ad was received. People watch Super Bowl ads for the entertainment value. Though they may think an ad is funny or heartwarming, the ad doesn’t prompt them to buy anything.

Opportunity cost is another consideration. If you’re buying a Super Bowl ad that’s $5 million, you may not have much leftover for other advertising opportunities. What else could you buy for that price? Earlier this year, Digiday analyzed how many digital ads marketers could get for $5 million, including the equivalent of 32 years of mobile video ads and 1.85 billion display ad impressions.

Similarly, you could buy about seven spots during Sunday Night Football—currently the most expensive show on TV—for the price of one Super Bowl ad, per Ad Age. According to Cox Media, a zone-focused TV ad buy costs as little as $10, so you could conceivably buy 500,000 TV spots for the price of one Super Bowl ad.

Pro: It Works Well for Some Categories

Case closed? Not so fast. For one thing, the Super Bowl ad research is inconclusive. A brand can run ads online, outdoors, in print, and during other TV slots. In addition, there is exposure in the media and word of mouth. Expecting to be able to connect a purchase decision to a one-time exposure during the Super Bowl is tricky.

The other factor is the category of the ad. It’s unrealistic to expect someone to buy a car because they saw it advertised on the Super Bowl. But what about going to see a movie? A paper by two economists found that Super Bowl ads boosted opening weekend ticket sales an average of $8.4 million.

Additionally, some brands do experience increased brand awareness or purchase intent. For example, FiercePharma reports that when Mucinex ran a Super Bowl ad this year, purchase consideration jumped 22 percent.

Who Wins?

The analysis of Super Bowl ad effectiveness illustrates why movie studios and other companies continue to advertise. The case for others may involve a complex calculation of long-term brand investment versus incremental sales.

If you want to build a brand to be a household name or maintain this household name status, then a Super Bowl buy makes sense. For others, you might be better off looking elsewhere.

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