Fact is, Super Bowl ads just aren’t that effective
Just one in five actually convince people to buy products
January 16, 2014
This year ad prices for the Super Bowl, which will air on Fox Feb. 2, hit a reported $4 million per 30 seconds, a record for the big game. The price of the ads has nearly doubled in the past decade, and every year media people debate whether that price is worth it. A new report suggests it may not be. Communicus, an advertising research firm, found that only one in five ads from last year’s game actually helped sell products. Moreover, many ads that were among the most liked in the postgame polls were the least effective at moving products, such as Tide’s popular spot about a stain shaped like Joe Montana. Though that was near the top in entertainment value, it ranked 30th of 40 commercials studied by Communicus in persuasiveness. By contrast, a Mercedes ad that rated average on Communicus’ likeability index generated more purchase intent that the most-liked car commercial from Hyundai. Jeri Smith, president and chief executive officer at Communicus, talks to Media Life about whether Super Bowl ads are worth it, how their persuasiveness compares to other ads, and why the game should not be an ad popularity contest.
What prompted you to do this report?
Communicus is in the business of helping advertisers to understand how well their advertising campaigns are working in-market and providing consulting to them as to how to improve campaign effectiveness.
As the largest advertising event of the year, the Super Bowl is worthy of a solid piece of research that can shed light on how effective Super Bowl ads actually are.
Many of the other Super Bowl ad reviews focus on recall and entertainment, but there’s a huge missing piece between that and a commercial that produces positive ROI for the brand. Further, it was our intention to be able to provide guidance to Super Bowl advertisers on how to maximize the return on their $4 million investment.
What did you find most interesting or most surprising about it?
Given that some of the best creative talent in the country works on developing these commercials, we were surprised that so few actually act as persuasive vehicles. Given the amount of focus given by the press to who’s doing what (e.g., Brand X will be running a commercial on the Super Bowl), and the brand-focused pre-game publicity programs implemented by the sponsors, we were astounded that such a large proportion of those who remembered specific commercials couldn’t recall the brand.
What’s the most important thing media buyers or planners can take from it?
Clearly, the Super Bowl is potentially a very powerful media venue. But without the right creative, that buy won’t pay off.
Interestingly, we found that, at least in 2012 and 2013, ad position during the game was not important as a predictor of success–the strengths/weaknesses of the specific pieces of creative overwhelmed any positioning effect.
One more thing–from a performance standpoint, long form commercials (either 60-second or two-minute executions) aren’t, on average, able to deliver commensurate with their added cost.
Some long commercials do well, such as the Budweiser Brotherhood 60-second spot and both Chrysler two-minute spots, Farmer and Whole Again. However, others fail to be well-linked to the brand (Toyota’s 60-second Wish Granted or Kia’s 60-second Space Babies) or to persuade (Tide’s two-minute Miracle Stain). Again, it’s what’s done with the length creatively more than the length itself.
From a macro point of view, we know that advertising that persuades usually works best on the basis of consumers seeing an execution with frequency, and even more importantly, seeing multiple executions – either on TV or across media venues – that all support the same basic brand platform. It’s just harder to persuade based on a single exposure to a single execution, which is why $4 million spent wisely across multiple exposure opportunities in many ways has a better chance of succeeding than does $4 million spent on a single exposure – despite the high engagement that comes with the Super Bowl environment.
As such, it’s often the advertisers who are introducing a new product or who have real news, who succeed best in the Super Bowl advertising environment. While it’s hard to change minds about a product that viewers are already familiar with only a single exposure, it’s relatively easier to communicate a piece of news.
Is other TV advertising more or less effective than the Super Bowl at encouraging people to buy something? That is, does the Super Bowl stand out as being less effective than running an ad on, say, “American Idol” or “Grey’s Anatomy?”
That’s not a simple answer, unfortunately. Given the high level of commercial engagement that comes along with the Super Bowl, it’s a good environment–if you have persuasive copy and don’t get too distracted by the whole “we need to win the popularity contest” dynamic.
On the other hand, brands are competing for attention with some of the most entertaining commercials that the consumer is going to be exposed to all year.
On average, Super Bowl commercials do get remembered more than the typical commercial would be with an equivalent number of GRPs behind it, but branding and persuasiveness is worse. Frequency and intensity of getting the message in front of consumers is vital. We do see good results from weekly real-time TV such as “American Idol,” while DVRs are definitely starting to take a piece out of the effective commercial audiences for shows that tend to get pre-recorded for later playback.
Clearly advertisers would like to connect with more people with Super Bowl ads, but even if you only encourage 20 percent to buy your brand, that’s still more than 20 million people. Does that make a Super Bowl ad worth the price?
The 20 percent number is actually the percent of Super Bowl ads that move the needle, not necessarily the amount by which these spots make the needle move. So your odds are just 20 percent that you’ll move the needle at all. The specific ROI math will differ depending on the product category and effectiveness of a specific piece of creative.
If I were Mercedes, I’d be very happy with the bump the CLA Soul commercial generated in interest in considering Mercedes combined with the increase in actual online investigations that were produced. Conversely, every year there are advertisers who opt out the next year because they just didn’t see the ROI that they were hoping for.
What do the most effective ads at influencing buying have in common?
They don’t lose sight of the basic tenets of good advertising–tell an engaging story, but weave it around the brand, and have it drill home a brand benefit (whether tangible or emotional) that is relevant, memorable and compelling.
Does it matter if an ad is well received? Does that give it a better or worse chance of influencing consumer behavior?
We find that “ad liking” does correlate with engagement. So if a brand creates the most likeable ad possible, the brand is more likely to get noticed and remembered.
However, ad liking doesn’t necessarily lead to strong persuasion, or even to consumers necessarily remembering what brand an ad was for. There’s some evidence that in some categories, being TOO likeable can create a risk of loss of persuasiveness–so much energy being liked distracts from the energy that should have been spent romancing the brand.
So much of the emphasis on Super Bowl ads these days is on creativity. Do you think companies would benefit if they went back to branding and selling over offering a funny, memorable, but ultimately ineffective ad?
I love creativity in advertising as much as anyone in the business, but at the end of the day it has to be about delivering a return on the advertising investment and growing brand equity, whether in short-term sales results or in brand-building that will produce profitable sales for the brand for years to come.
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