Quick, what were the most memorable ads from last year’s Super Bowl?
Yeah, me neither.
With the exception of the famous Ridley Scott Apple “1984” spot, it's hard to recall commercials that survived beyond the usual pre- and post-game best of/worse of conversations that give the spots some additional media exposure.
(Interesting asides on the 1984 ad: Apple's board of directors was unimpressed and urged Chiat/Day to sell off the Super Bowl ad time it had bought. Before it ran, the ad was tested and it received a score of 5 on ASI Market Research's 43-point scale of effectiveness -- a fraction of the average score of 29.)
All Super Bowl ads get a fair amount of pregame “free publicity” and live online indefinitely and many are run in other programming after their debut in the Super Bowl -- so trying to assess whether over $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime (plus production costs) is worth it is pretty hard.
One study found that Super Bowl ads for beer and soda generally pay for themselves, with one beer manufacturer earning almost $100 million more because of its ads. But that gain is erased if two beverage competitors advertise in the same game. Oddly, they cancel each other out. so that neither one gets additional sales.
I read an analysis which claimed that because Super Bowl audiences are so huge (111.3 million in 2017), a 30-second Super Bowl commercial costs only between 4 and 5 cents per viewer compared to a spot on a popular national network show that equates to 8 to 10 cents or more per viewer. Plus, the normal network show doesn’t include all of the free airtime/press hype that the Super Bowls get.
I read another study that said about 17% of viewers say the ads are their favorite part of the game. Unless you are from New Orleans, then judging the penalty calls supersedes the ads (sorry to rub it in, my Crescent City friends! You were definitely robbed).
It would be nice to be able to say that the Super Bowl showcases the best and the brightest of today’s Madison Avenue (where, by the way, none of them are headquartered anymore), but sadly, it often has the opposite effect, with viewers shaking their heads and asking “What the hell?”
Moreover, it is really hard to judge the amount of misplaced ego that goes into buying and creating an ad that most of the country will see in one form or another. As often as not, it has little to do with the financial ROI.
While some brands and agencies might think about going the Nike/Gillette route and doing something out of the box that transcends selling their products and services, the scrutiny each ad gets from a highly polarized society armed with social media is not worth the potential blowback.
The fallback is humor, which tends to be highly subjective -- as past Super Bowl flops have shown.
All of this has been going on since 1967.
Each year, as the cost of the spots inevitably goes up, the debate renews about whether it is all worth it.
What do you think?