Is A Super Bowl Ad Worth $5.6MM?

The Super Bowl is LIV years in and the ads are still talked about as much as the team and players. How could they not be with that price tag?

$5,600,000. For a :30 advertisement. That’s roughly $186,000 per second.

To put that in perspective, let’s take a look at the 5 most expensive broadcast television shows for the 2019-2020 season. They are, in order:
1. NBC’s Sunday Night Football – $685,000
2. FOX’s Thursday Night Football – $540,000
3. NBC’s This Is Us – $360,000
4. FOX’s The Masked Singer – $202,000
5. NBC’s The Voice (Monday) – $193,000

This begs the question – is it worth it?

For me, it’s a resounding yes.

How in the world is a Super Bowl :30 commercial worth 8 times more than a standard football spot, the same :30, the same night of the week?

Let’s compare the Super Bowl stats to a standard Sunday Night Football airing:

Super Bowl
Total Viewers = 99.9MM
Household (HH) Rating* = 41.6

Sunday Night Football
Total Viewers = 20.9MM
Household (HH) Rating* = 12.1

* A 1.0 rating point represents 1% of all households in the United States. That means that 41.6% of the total number of television households tuned in to the Super Bowl. As we’re less than a week post-Oscars, I wanted to share those numbers as well because it really helps to frame the enormity of the Super Bowl. The 2020 Oscars, broadcast on ABC, averaged 23.6MM viewers and a 5.3 Rating (making it television’s most-watched entertainment special even though it is statistically down between 20%-30% year-over-year)

In fact, FOX stated that they sold out of their 77 available spots for national brands back in November, racking up the highest advertiser spend to date at $435MM.

And while :30 dominated, long-form commercials came to play with 24 spots lasting more than :60.

Why is this airtime so coveted?

Because the numbers are staggering. 41.6% of all television households were watching the Super Bowl. That’s almost ½. Of the United States. And, unlike any other programming, people were as tuned in to the commercials as they were to see the Chiefs beat the 49ers.

Think about that for a moment, the Super Bowl is the only show where the commercials meet or exceed the expectations of the program.

This is where the value of the spots exceeds the price tag.

In advertising, there’s a lesser-known measurement called Water-Cooler Talks. This analysis looks past standard metrics – like viewership and ratings – and puts social commentary on the forefront. What’s being talked about when people gather around the proverbial water cooler? What are people talking about in the office? Around their dinner table? On their favorite DJ’s morning talk show as they’re on their way to work and school? In their morning and evening news programs?

And what do advertisers pay for these Water-Cooler Talks? Nothing.

Don’t negate this. It’s huge.

Many people mistakenly look at Super Bowl ads as a lot of money to shell out for a mere 30-seconds. And if that was the end of the story, they’d be right. But it isn’t. Super Bowl commercials are talked about weeks before kickoff and eve-ry-one is talking about them.

This is where a little psychology comes into play.

Every person wants to be the first one to know. That’s just human nature. It’s that part of us that wants to be the first person to find out something new and the first to tell our friends – whether it’s great news (Joaquin Phoenix winning Best Actor) or not (Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing).

And the Super Bowl spots are no different.

Weeks before the coin toss people are talking about the ads on every traditional media outlet and every social media platform. You know the ones, those little teasers we get before a commercial break with a vague description that piques our interest – “You’ll want to grab a Kleenex for Google’s Super Bowl spot” and “Bill Murray makes a surprising appearance, and gets a little help from Punxsutawney Phil, for this year’s Jeep ad.”

We’re then torn, watch or not to watch. We want the surprise but we also want to be in on the conversation. But it goes deeper than that. Watching it LIVE gives us a sense of community. We may not be in the same room, but we’re all collectively together.

And advertisers revel in the tension and the attention.

Some brands refuse to let their spot see the light of day before the night of the Super Bowl, some keep their spot under lock and key only allowing snippets to be shared for promotional chatter, and some deliberately run the ad before the Super Bowl so that the ad will seem familiar on Game Day (Sonata’s “Smaht Pahk” first aired 1/27 – 6 days before the Super Bowl).

And when the game airs? It’s a thing of beauty. It is the one time where people stay in the room during the commercials. When people don’t use the commercial breaks to run to the kitchen. Or the bathroom. Trust me, I book my media with that insight.

People are even caught off guard. They’re glued to the game, dipped nachos midair, when the commercial comes on and they instinctively start to jump up and run to the restroom (or whatever else can be managed in a four-minute break) when it hits them, “Oh wait, this is the Super Bowl!” and they sit back down.

But here’s my one caveat. Super Bowl ads are worth the money IF they’re good. And I mean really good. Funny, touching, or inspirational it has to be memorable.

Let’s take a look at Adweek’s (an advertising trade publication) rankings. The top 5 Super Bowl ads, in order, are as follows:
1. Jeep: “Groundhog Day”
2. Google: “Loretta”
3. Amazon: “#Before Alexa”
4. Hyundai Sonata: “Smaht Pahk”
5. Snickers: “Fix The World”

These ads came out on top because they engaged with the right people, at the right time, in the right place, and in a memorable and relevant way.

That seems easy enough, but it isn’t. That’s why so many advertisements, and companies, fail. Think about how many times you’ve seen a commercial and immediately when it ends you think, “Well, that was dumb” or “I don’t get it.” Or worse, you love the ad, but for the life of you, you can’t remember who the brand is.

Commonalties that existed between the most successful Super Bowl brands were that they focused on storytelling, most used celebrities (10. 11 if you count Punxsutawney Phil), and they all capitalized on evoking an emotional reaction (Google used sadness which coincidentally is the longest-lasting out of our 20 emotions).

To be a good ad, it has to meet the following criteria:
• Memorable – after a person sees your spot they should be able to recall the brand and the product (sounds easy enough, but remember this: marketers estimate that we are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 ads every single day)
• Provide information quickly and succinctly – which is becoming increasingly difficult as attention spans continue to drop (in just 15 years our attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 8. 8. A goldfish has 9)
• Be authentic – people will see through anything less
• Have a clear and simple message – so many fall into the trap of trying to tell their customers everything about their brand in 30-seconds
• It must be effective (sell the product) for the advertiser (after all, that’s why we’re all here to begin with)

Deep pockets don’t hurt either.

Advertisers often match the amount spent on their :30 Super Bowl ad to market the product for the rest of the year. A pretty hard pill to swallow for most brands. And those aren’t the headliners either. Anheuser Busch InBev spent the most at $41MM while Pepsi took 2nd place with $31MM. Procter & Gamble came in 3rd, spending $30MM, and Amazon dropped a cool $26MM.

But spending a lot doesn’t mean your ad comes out on top.

Of the four big spenders, only Amazon ranked in the top 5 best ads of the Super Bowl. That has to sting when you spend tens of millions of dollars and your ad doesn’t resonate with your customers.

For those of you new to my site, or my blogs, Engagement Marketing is my passion. It’s why I created my agency. I use every type of media to make a meaningful connection with my customer/shopper. In my 20 years, I’ve come across many people who plan and buy media without having that connection. Media becomes an Ad Libs where you just drop your brand into the available space. There is little to no research (either on the brand, the customer, or both), plans are grandfathered in (booked year after year without thoughtful analysis to confirm if that is still the best use of your ad spend), optimization doesn’t exist (this is the monitoring of your campaign throughout execution), media is planned as a one-off, and on and on.

The result? It’s never worked.

That is my true point of differentiation. I engage. I make that emotional connection. That’s why I named my company Will Work For Chocolate. Love it or hate it, funny or dumb, you have a reaction. And that tells you more about what I do than a 10-minute pitch ever could.

Ads costing $5.6MM can absolutely be worth it when you have a program that connects with nearly half of all television households in the United States and you have a memorable advertisement that creates an emotional connection that resonates with your customer.

And unlike the “Loretta” ad, we don’t need Google’s help in remembering that.


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