Super Bowl Advertising: ROI Friend Or Foe?

Ah, the Super Bowl—the annual arranged marriage between sports’ most-viewed event and TV’s single-most expensive ad slot. While brands are guaranteed an audience at least 10 times larger than any other televised event, the debate persists as to whether the current $5 million price tag outweighs the value, with costs continuing to grow year after year.

A boost in brand recognition has always been the big takeaway for Super Bowl advertisers, but quantifying that recognition is still an art rather than a science—and is largely up to interpretation. According to Fortune, some 2016 advertisers, like, attributed a significant revenue increase to their Super Bowl campaigns. On the other hand, veteran advertisers like Coca-Cola or Budweiser don’t necessarily expect a measurable impact and simply return due to FOMO (or fear of missing out).

In recent years, the success of Super Bowl ad campaigns has been unofficially measured by the viral status advertisers achieve on social media shortly following the game. Last year, Unruly’s rundown of Super Bowl 50’s most viral ads revealed that the 10 most viral ads were shared on social media a total of 2.9 million times in the first 24 hours following the game.

These stats do a great job of telling the story of immediate gratification, but how can advertisers understand the story of staying power after the initial hype dies down? And what other channels can they look to to get an indication of the long tail impact of a Super Bowl ad?

We asked the same question by digging into our platform to measure all other media mentions—on TV, online news outlets and blogs—within 1 hour, 2 days, 3 weeks and 4 months of airing—and then through the end of 2016. Here’s what we found:

  • 95% of all Super Bowl ad-related conversations happen in the four months following the game
  • 80% of these conversations happen in the first 2 days
  • 90% of all conversations have taken place within 3 weeks
  • 5% of all conversations happen between week 4 and month 4
  • The residual 5% of conversations come during year-end discussions (usually about most memorable advertisements)

Doritos’s “Ultrasound” and Mountain Dew’s “#PuppyMonkeyBaby” took the top spots for total volume of mentions earned throughout 2016, with 5,233 mentions and 4,690 mentions, respectively. Not only did these brands employ unique creative in an attempt at shock value, but Doritos once again ran their “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, giving their campaign momentum well before game day. And while both ads received tons of attention right out of the gate, they received a majority of their mentions within the first two days, then hit a sharp decline.

Brands that utilized a deeper, more meaningful message experienced greater longevity (or lasting effect), meaning their ads received a steadier stream of mentions throughout the year with no sudden drop-offs. By tugging on millennial heart strings and celebrating their 20th anniversary, for instance, Pokemon’s “#Pokemon20,” nearly edged out Budweiser’s drinking and driving PSA starring Helen Mirren for greatest longevity.

It’s clear that present-day Super Bowl advertising is just as competitive as the game itself, and brands are seeking new ways to stand out in the creative crowd. 2017 is shaping up to be an interesting year for advertisers, with a slew of celebrity appearances planned as well as an attempt at the first-ever live commercial by Snickers. 

If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that shock value will grab audience’s immediate attention, but a more meaningful message will resonate and carry these campaigns well beyond game day.

5 comments about "Super Bowl Advertising: ROI Friend Or Foe?".
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  1. charles bachrach from BCCLTD, February 1, 2017 at 10:22 a.m.

    There have not, to my knowedge, ever been sales results from many of the Super Bowl
    advertisers as to how many large items (cars, appliances, etc.) that can be directly related to the Game.  The only folks who many money are the League (you know they need to over pay the uselsess Commissioner far much than he's worth!! And, of course the teams themselves whyo get income from a number of sources too!  Advertisers should go on "strike" on NOT over pay for
    basically just another football game.  Don't forget that the Networks over pay use to carry the
    games during the regular and psot season too!!!

  2. Robert Passikoff from Brand Keys, Inc., February 1, 2017 at 10:39 a.m.

    Consumers need to be emotionally engaged with the ads so they come away feeling the brand better meets the expectations they hold for the category Ideal. Puppies are cute and all, but the ultimate question is what did it do for the Budweiser brand? Beyond collecting all those shares, likes, and tweets. Which do correlate with “entertainment” but not so much with sales.

    Last year only13 of the 33 brands (or thirty-nine percent, down ten percent from the 13-year historical average of forty-nine percent) were assessed as both engaging and entertaining. Of those 13, only 6 were determined to be both highly engaging and highly entertaining.

    Look, we understand that agencies and marketers hope their ads will entertain. That’s a dimension that’s easy to measure. And unquestionably advertising entertainment and social networking reviews generate lots of chatter. So there you are. You managed to entertain 115 million viewers. But these days that’s not enough. Or shouldn’t be.

    With 30-second spots selling for $5 million plus, marketers need a new game plan when it comes to assessing advertising ROI. A laugh, a sigh, or a tweet alone isn’t really an acceptable return on budgets this big. Advertising should be judged not by entertainment ratings or social networking trend metrics, but how it ultimately helps the brand perform in the marketplace. Does the ad engage and build the brand’s equity? Does it drive brand share, consumer behavior, and sales? If so, you’ll score positive bottom line impact, even if the advertising wasn’t as entertaining as envisioned.
    But on this particular Sunday, when a brand gets into people’s living rooms or on their computers or mobile screens, it doesn’t

  3. Alvin Silk from Harvard Business School, February 1, 2017 at 5:31 p.m.

    Has anyone out there ever seen any data on the costs of creative development and/or production for Super Bowl commercials, aired over the 50 years of SB history? Why the preoccupation with the  cost of 30 secpnds of in-game braodcast time but glaring neglect of commercial development and productin costs? Re ROI calculations for SB investments: the numerator (R) is likely to remains ellusive, but can we bring forth some data relating to the demominatir--I = media time + creative developemt+ production?

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 1, 2017 at 7:19 p.m.

    Alvin, in our annual, "TV Dimensions 2017", we publish the estimate that a typical 30-second TV commercial made for a medium-sized to major national TV spender as part of its ongoing campaign costs about $400,000 to make---with variations all around this norm. Based on data we have seen, the corresponding figure for a Super Bowl commercial of the same length is about $1.4-1.5 million---again, with wide variations around the average---especially on the high side when an advertiser decides to go for broke on the crafting and production of a message, treating it like a mini movie. In addition, many SB advertisers spend heavily on social media and elsewhere to promote their Super Bowl ads. This also includes party like gatherings of customers to watch the event and special research to check on the percentage of viewers who recall the commercial, intend to buy the product, etc. So, when all is done, a $5 million  Super Bowl time buy for a single 30-second ad may require an additional expenditure of the same amount to make the ad, promote it and so forth.

    Regarding the ROI aspect, while a typical Super Bowl ad may be recalled by 50% of those who claimed to watch the game, and anywhere from 5-10% may state that they changed their mind and now have a better opinion of the brand---not that much better than the results for a non-SB ad---advertisers with very successful SB outings frequently get much better results---especially on the attitude-change metrics. I've seen findings indicating that 30-50% of those who claimed to have seen such an exceptional ad report a major turn around in their opinion of the brand. However, such lifts soon dissipate as time passes and it is very difficult to trace the true ROI of a single SB ad---beyond any immediate and observable sales effects. Let's face it. For most advertisers it's really a major promotional and image ploy---a linchpin---on top of and in support of their regular ad/promotional campaigns.

  5. PJ Lehrer from NYU, February 3, 2017 at 9:35 a.m.

    It's one thing to engage another to depress.  Depressing ads don't make me want to buy something, and my students agree.  You can read more here...

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