Commentary

The Super Bowl Is A Super Waste Of Ad Dollars

This year’s Super Bowl TV time cost an average of $5.6 million per 30 second spot. Do these expenditures justify the result? My answer: absolutely not. 

$5.6 million spent on one of the heaviest ad days of the year just doesn’t make sense. Seriously, how are you going to stand out from the crowd with another 80 ads playing?  $5.6 million shelled out on this platform was more like a Super Waste.  

Basic economic theory dictates that this over-hyped and saturated market place allows networks to charge millions more than normal during this brief period, but there's negligible pay-off for those buying into this sham. 

When you're involved in these sort of shenanigans, you're not looking for return on investment but validation for your brand and that, quite frankly, is sad. 

This is further evident in the fact that we rarely see brands' agencies touting case study results from campaigns that run during the Super Bowl.  This is because the kind of results that any self-respecting business would proudly want to promote simply aren’t there. 

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Some watch the ads because they are more entertaining than the game (depending on who’s competing).  But, again, was it worth it? 

When we look at the numbers objectively, the average Super Bowl reaches around 100 million viewers. Let's assume all 100 million people are watching your ad at the same time. Congratulations! You just spent $50 on your CPM. The average CPM in the United States on Facebook is $7.77, Instagram, $7.91, Google AdWords, $2.32, and for social media influencers it's $6.81. 

To put matters in perspective, standard cable ads have an average CPM of $16.50 which is well below the Super Bowl. 

As a comparison, if you were to spend the same $5 million on social media - 50% on Facebook and 50% Instagram - you'd reach 321,750,321 people on the former and 316,055,625 people on the latter.  This is in excess of six times the audience reach your equivalent TV spot is going to achieve at best.   

Despite what you say about the ad worth, the numbers don’t warrant the pitiful results from this type of spend. For all intents and purposes what we are seeing is an exercise in self-congratulatory brand affirmation. And I get it.  When you see your ads running during the Super Bowl it feels like you’ve made it.  You’re right up there, waving your flag and sharing the stage with one of the largest sporting events of the year. 

It looks great.  It feels great.  But it doesn’t actually do much for your brand.

Of course, there are tiny exceptions. Take Mr. Peanut for example.  He was plastered all over the trades. The monocle wearing goober even made it to Saturday Night Live! But my question remains how many other ads can you recall right now? Personally, I can think of 3 more. That’s a paltry 3 out of 86 and the only reason I’m aware of them is because of the massive PR and marketing push they’ve enjoyed. 

It helps that I'm also a self-confessed ad freak who obsesses about this stuff. So, imagine how this all feels to the general consumer.  Crowded and difficult to remember, I'll wager. 

Super Bowl ads produce a touchdown for a very select few. For the rest of us, the numbers will never point to running a commercial during the game unless the prices are slashed dramatically. That’s the stark reality but the likelihood of this happening any time soon is up there with Joe Montana being called out of retirement.  

6 comments about "The Super Bowl Is A Super Waste Of Ad Dollars".
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  1. Jim Thompson from Temple University, February 11, 2020 at 2:17 p.m.

    Elijah, big brands are not stupid. The reason they advertise on the Super Bowl is because it works for them. Your commentary was pertinent 20 years ago when internet start-ups were spending money willy-nilly (rhymes with dilly dilly, but I digress) and not generating anything other than awareness. For the past decade, Super Bowl ads have been part of an overall program that includes multiple communication vehicles to reach and persuade the consumer. A quick primer on why brands run Super Bowl ads:
    1. The largest audience of any program by a wide margin.
    2. A viewing environment in which people are actively wanting to watch the ads.
    3. It's a live event - no ad-skipping.
    4. Memorability - the research shows that people remember many of the ads after the game.
    5. Synergies with social media in the weeks before and after the game.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 11, 2020 at 3:48 p.m.

    Right, Jim. I would add that many of the Super Bowl ads are closely tied to special promotional and brand image shaping activities which make the whole exercise worthwhile. It's not just an audience size or timing thing. Evidence on this are the large amounts of additional dollars that some brands spend to promote their presence on the Super Bowl. You never see a brand spending tons of money to tell consumers that they are running a spot on The CBS Evening News or a siccom on Fox on a particular evening.

  3. Dan Ciccone from STACKED Entertainment, February 12, 2020 at 8:18 a.m.

    The ads get TONS of free play across news outlets  and social sharing generating millions of additional views and engagements  - I don't see that equation in your analysis - earned media brings those CPMs way down. 

    what other appointment TV opportunities are there to just watch commercials - many viewers are there just for the commercials - an advertiser's dream.

    How many TV events are there when all the talk the next day at the office is about the ads?  

    The super bowl is not a "media buy."  It's probably the only media event that is hyped before, during, and and after the event and one of the few sporting events that inspires change and simultaneously celebrates and creates pop culture. 

    It's not a media buy.   So it's a super waste is you don't understand the opportunity  


  4. Neil Ascher from The Midas Exchange, February 12, 2020 at 10:39 a.m.

    I'm afraid this is the perception held by people who have never had any experience beyond digital media.  Not every brand has objectives that are entirely performance driven.

  5. Kevin Horne from Lairig Marketing, February 12, 2020 at 11:35 a.m.

    "As a comparison, if you were to spend the same $5 million on social media - 50% on Facebook and 50% Instagram - you'd reach 321,750,321 people on the former and 316,055,625 people on the latter."

    Not sure which is the more important question about that factoid - How?  or Why?

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 12, 2020 at 11:48 a.m.

    One thing you have to say about those who scoff at TV advertisers for spending lots of money on attractions like The Super Bowl---is the precision  of their own "audience" data. For example, "If you spent $2.5 billion on Face Book you would reach 321,750,321 people". Really? Which is roughly everybody in the United States. Right? Or, maybe, we are referring to that hot new digital "metric"---"impressions"---which they tell us is taking over TV. But "impressions" are heavily duplicated, aren't they? And even if this is a correct number---how many of these "impressions" represent people actually paying attention to the ad? Not many, I'd wager. The beat goes on---and on---and on.

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