Who Scores With The Super Bowl's Mythical Ad Price Tag?
What does CBS' getting $2.6 million a commercial in the Super Bowl mean? It should say that the top-rated TV program of the year is still strong. But in reality, it is just about manipulating spread sheets--either CBS' or its advertisers.
Each year TV business reporters are pressed to figure out whether a network has done well in selling the Super Bowl. That seemingly comes with the idea that the Super Bowl is indicative of the TV market as a whole.
The good new is that Super Bowl ratings have more or less stayed the same over the last several years, doing about a 40 plus rating and 60 share. And this comes in the wake of broadcast erosion, cable programming ratings gains, and now, new digital platforms that vie for consumers' attention.
But while it's a barometer for some, to others it's a game of moving money around your Microsoft Excel program. CBS has hinted that some dozen or so advertisers have paid $2.6 million a 30-second commercial. But that's not the real bottom line.
The fact is, few advertisers just buy the Super Bowl game itself. Media executives say there is more packaging of the Super Bowl with other programming and content than ever before-- selling lesser-priced pre-game, post-game, regular prime-time, and other sports inventory, and, oh yes, those new digital platforms. CBS says many commercials will run online as well.
So what's the average price? It depends on what CBS says. It depends what advertisers such as Anheuser-Busch, Pepisco, FedEx, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros. Pictures say.
Do you think Anheuser-Busch paid $2.6 million for each of the 10 commercials it buys during the game? No way. The price should be under that average, naturally. And what does GoDaddy--the Internet-domain-name-selling company that typically just buys one Super Bowl spot--pay? It would make more sense that this company's fee equals, or is close to, the $2.6 million price tag.
Interestingly, while GoDaddy has regularly complained about the network's standard and practices department, as it did last Thursday (last year it submitted 14 different versions of somewhat racy, and oftimes snickering, commercials), it never complains about the price.
Where is the rate card for the Super Bowl? In 2003, I thought I was getting close to the answer. This is what I wrote for Advertising Age concerning ABC's airing of the Super Bowl that year: "The network's $2.1 million average price for this year's game equals the highest average price ever for a Super Bowl, which came in 2000 when ABC last had the Super Bowl. In that game, 22 dot-com advertisers spent lavishly, with two long-gone companies dishing out $3 million each for 30-second spots, the highest individual sales for spots of that length ever."
Now, four years later, the price has moved up to $2.6 million. But similar $3 million sales for recent Super Bowls have seemingly never occurred. How can that be? It's either bad math or bad imagination or bad reporting. (Yes, I'll definitely take some responsibility here.)
Too many landmines for advertisers exist during the Super Bowl. The first is the obvious attention on the creative and how it'll rate, during polls like the one done in USA Today.
The other is price. The fact is, no media agency executive wants his client to find out it paid more than the other guy.
One way to take care of this: package more into Super Bowl TV sales to obscure the real price. It's $2.6 million--give or take.