Super Bowl's Marketing Game Of Two Halves. Great For Branding, Less So For Response

To the average Brit, American football is about as confusing as cricket must be to the average American. While we wonder what the shouting and the bumping around is all about, and why different players keep coming on and off, they wonder aloud how on earth two teams can hit a ball around for five days and still end up with a tied game.

It's catching on, however, as any Brit with bleary-eyed office colleagues can probably testify to today. That "bad night's sleep" may well have been the result of waiting up to see the dramatic last-minute interception that won the New England Patriots the sport's biggest prize.

What is always big in the London media scene is looking at who's paying a reputed $4.5m to get their 30-second spot aired to the biggest television audience in North America. With so much money at stake, you'd have to think that it was all worthwhile, wouldn't you? In terms of dividing the audience by the cost of an advert, the figure actually look pretty good. Forbes has published an interesting analysis, which suggests if you assume -- and it's a big assumption -- that a nice round figure of 100m people stay tuned during the ad break, a Super Bowl ad is only 5 cents per viewer, which is highly comparable -- and by its reckoning, slightly lower than reaching a Facebook or YouTube viewer which would typically cost between 7 to 9 cents.

You'd have to point out, though, that a lot of those 100m people are not the brand's potential audience, but for the sake of argument, let's just agree that a large sum of money divided a large number of viewers leads to a relatively low cost per viewer.

You'd also have to factor in the halo effect of being talked about as a Super Bowl advertiser in the news, and doubtless, in social media channels too. Not many would write about your social media campaign on Facebook but spend a king's ransom on a Super Bowl ad, and you're likely to be mentioned far and wide.

So the cost per viewer is pretty attractive, despite the huge asking price -- but does it actually lead to anything?

Well, no, according to mobile programmatic buying platform Rocket Fuel. Its research looked at car advertisers in previous Super Bowl events and found that there was actually a near 15 "halo" rise in conversions for brands advertising during the game. The trouble was, it wasn't instant. It grew in the month after the big event and when they looked into the figures further, this coincided with a seasonal increase of sales of cars in American during February and March, precipitated by an increase in interest in car ads and automakers' Web sites for the month beforehand. A similar rise in conversions -- which include test drive bookings and configuration of cars, was largely similar for those who did not advertise during the Super Bowl -- the company contends. However, it has to be pointed out, the company didn't publish these comparison results for brands that didn't advertise, it has just passed on the observation in accompanying notes.

So is it worth it? Well, to sit on the fence for a while, it probably depends how you look at advertising.

If you look at direct response -- as RocketFuel has -- then you may have a point which, dare I say, might be used to attract budget away from a single television blow-out of budget to a more long-term use of mobile programmatic? However, if you're looking at branding, you'd probably get a very different result.

Advertisers that simply want to get their brand out there in front of a mass audience in one fell swoop can actually do so fairly cost-effectively via the Super Bowl -- presuming most people hang around and don't grab a beer or a coffee during the ad breaks. Those who are looking for a corresponding, direct sales lift -- in terms of direct response -- are probably far better off spending that huge pile of cash elsewhere. 

Sorry it's a classic "Yes/No" advertising answer based on the age-old 'depends how you look at it' but there you have it. Considering that it's companies looking for branding that would advertising during the game, you'd probably have to assume in general it does work out, so long as they're thinking branding, and not direct response.

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