Are Super Bowl Ads Worth The $3.5 Million?

The lede on an AP story in USA Today claims the Super Bowl is “still the hottest ticket in advertising.” But isn’t that kind of like saying that the $487.25 that "The Book of Mormon" commands for a prime orchestra seat less than 48 hours before show time is the hottest ticket on Broadway? They may be costly and they may be scarce but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good deal for most people.

The Wall Street Journal’s Suzanne Vranica reported yesterday that marketers are paying about $3.5 million for a single 30-second spot and that spots during Super Bowl XLVI, the game, are sold out. The price represents an increase of 59% in the past decade.

“The increase in ad prices for the Super Bowl are a clear sign of how important the ratings juggernaut has become to advertisers as viewership for regular broadcast TV continues to shrink amid growing competition from cable and the Web,” Vranica writes.



"The NFL continues to be the gold standard of all programming," Seth Winter, SVP of sales and marketing for NBC Sports, tells her.

Reacting to the story on The Atlantic’s site, Jordan Weissmann points out that the reason for the hefty surcharge is that “as audiences have fractured in the age of Hulu and DVR, the Super Bowl is among the last of an increasingly endangered species: The truly mass audience live TV event. In good times and bad, that distinction has been worth a premium to advertisers.”

But he also says there’s “another important value proposition” involved in the equation: “People actually care about the ads. Deeply.” The evidence is all the Monday-morning quarterbacking about their quality that goes on around all the Keurig single-serve coffee brewing devices across our great land.

Another indication of the importance of Super Bowl advertising has to be the space the media dedicate to every minute detail. Ad Age’s "Special Report" is a prime example, with articles delving into everything from who’s buying what and why in 2012 to a complete gallery of last year’s spots.

Brian Steinberg wrote a piece yesterday that suggests that marketers -– “perhaps inspired by the two-minute 2011 Super Bowl ad from Chrysler, in which the automaker boasted that its vehicles were ‘Imported from Detroit’ while rapper Eminem toasted in the background,” -- may be moving toward more long-form advertising this year.

Besides the potential impact, technology plays a role in this school of thought. “Giant but affordable TV screens provide a more appropriate canvas for epic ads and a better chance to catch the eye of audience members who tend not to pay attention during commercial breaks,” Steinberg writes. Plus, the spots live on, not only in the trades and USA Today’s morning-after round-ups but ad infinitum, so to speak, on YouTube and Hulu. So far, though, only Volkswagen has confirmed that it will go longer than a :30 this year.

CNNMoney’s Aaron Smith reports that Go Daddy will advertise in its eighth consecutive Super Bowl this year with two 30-second spots -- one featuring driver Danica Patrick and the other trainer Jillian Michaels. These ads always make me cringe about hosting several domains at GoDaddy.

The piece also includes a video interview with Olivier Francois, Chrysler’s lead exec for marketing, about that long-form piece with Eminem, who he says was the perfect icon to represent resiliency –- personally, as well as for the city he grew up in.

“It’s about featuring the spirit of Detroit; even more the spirit of America,” say Francois with an endearing French accent. “Detroit is a symbol of the fighting spirit. You can stumble but you always stand up.”

Ad Age also presents a cogent counterpoint to all the Super Bowl hoopla in the form of a “CMO Strategy” column titled “The Industry's Super Bowl Stumble” with the subhed, “Creating Ads to Appeal to the Greatest Number of Viewers Assures Content That Humiliates Our Profession.”

Jonathan Salem Baskin, the president of a marketing decisions consultancy called Baskin Associates, offers three reasons why booking a Super Bowl ad is probably about as good an idea for you as buying that $487.25 theater ticket:

  • It demands lowest-common-denominator content.
  • It creates a self-conscious ad experience.
  • It's not really social in a way that is useful to brands over time.

Meanwhile, over at the New York Times’ “You’re the Boss” blog, Tom Szaky has a different take on long-form advertising that will appeal to entrepreneurs with a video camera, Final Cut Pro and a few grand to spend on production and early-morning media buys.

The CEO of Trenton-based TerraCycle writes amusingly about an infomercial he produced five years ago that bombed miserably. But wait! There’s always a second act in the land of infomercials and Szaky tells us what he going to do, how he’s going to do it, and why it will succeed.

And the total cost is a lot closer to $487.25 than it is to $3.5 million.

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