Most Super Bowl Ads Fail, But Yours Doesn't Have To

by , Dec 3, 2013, 8:00 AM
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Any advertiser contemplating investment in the NFL Super Bowl has to ask themselves: Will this multimillion-dollar spend pay off for our brand?

Super Bowl advertising carries a hefty price tag, often the equivalent of a brand's entire annual media spend. But the Super Bowl is almost as much of an advertising event as it is a sporting event: Even non-sports fans watch the Super Bowl, just to see the ads -- and talk about their favorites on Monday morning.

Yet even with this massive advantage, very few brands succeed in changing consumer behavior with their Super Bowl buy. According to Communicus research in 2013, just 20% of Super Bowl advertisers had an impact on purchasing or future purchase intent for their brand.

One problem: Advertisers care too much about being popular. Most brands, encouraged by Super Bowl media hype, seek to have the most likeable commercial. Unfortunately, most neglect the matter of persuasion.

There are four keys to successfully capitalizing on a Super Bowl media investment.

1. Build a story that revolves around the brand

Super Bowl viewers are more interested in being entertained than in being persuaded. If a commercial is structured in a way that viewers can enjoy the experience without connecting it with the brand, that's what most will do. Many Super Bowl ads tell an engaging story, but the story could be about any variety of brands. Take the Volkswagen 2012 Super Bowl commercial, in which a dog diets so that he can chase the car. While 94% of viewers liked the ad, only 28% remembered that it was for Volkswagen. Contrast this with Oreo's 2013 ‘Whisper Fight’ commercial, which scored 71% likeable (distinctly average by Super Bowl standards), but was among the strongest spots for brand connection, with 70% of viewers linking the ad to Oreo.

2. Use the pre-game hype to focus on the brand name

Your pre-launch PR doesn't guarantee that viewers will notice and link the commercial to the brand, but it can definitely help. Budweiser's “Name the Foal” contest, had the second-highest level of brand awareness of any 2013 Super Bowl commercial, due in part to its pre-game promotion. This iconic brand's contest achieved both very high pre-game awareness levels and created huge anticipation for the ad. Not only did Budweiser reap the rewards in brand awareness, but they also built future purchase intent for the brand.

3. Ensure that the commercial is engaging

Engagement is vital, and a pivotal first step in accomplishing brand objectives. Even in the Super Bowl environment -- unique in that many viewers are actually interested in watching the commercials -- the average consumer only engages with about half of the ads to which he or she is exposed. Engagement varies widely as a function of the creative itself (apart from the placement within the game or the commercial break), with the most engaging commercials being recalled by up to 67% of viewers. The least engaging commercials are noticed and remembered by less than 10% of consumers.

4. Drive to ROI – always

For most advertisers, the goal is to sell products, thus generating a positive ROI. Some 2013 commercials did beat the odds to change consumer behavior or behavioral intentions.

The widely derided Beck’s Sapphire "Serenade" commercial with the singing goldfish wasn’t the most remembered or liked ad of the game. But it did build awareness and trial for this new product, scoring 733 on the persuasiveness index -- well above the average 2013 Super Bowl commercial. Likewise, Mercedes-Benz used the game to offer a pre-launch introduction of the CLA model with the "Soul" ad, featuring Willem Dafoe, Usher, and Kate Upton. Although only about one-third of those who remembered it realized it was a Mercedes ad, it was extremely successful in generating purchase interest among those who did recall the brand.

Bottom line: Brands must temper their desire to be liked above all else. A winning balance of engagement, branding, powerful pre-game hype -- and most importantly, persuasion -- is required. Otherwise, the only win might be in the office Super Bowl pool -- and that won’t be enough to cover the millions wasted with an ineffective ad. 

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