So, do Super Bowl ads really work?

Tracey Samuelson Jan 29, 2013

So, do Super Bowl ads really work?

Tracey Samuelson Jan 29, 2013

The Super Bowl features the most expensive advertising on television –- largely due to the over 100 million viewers will tune into the game.

This year, CBS is reportedly charging an average of $3.8 million for just 30 seconds — up 60 percent over last decade, according to the research firm Kantar Media.

But are these ads worth their hefty price tags?

Historically, a well-done ad in the Super Bowl could be a game changer for some companies, like for Apple.

In 1984, Apple ran a minute-long ad that is still regarded as one of the more successful Super Bowl ad campaigns. It featured the tag line: “On January 24th, Apple computer will introduce Macintosh and you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”

“It was about Big-Brother totalitarianism and Apple was fighting back,” recalls Charles Tomkovick, a marketing professor at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. “They sold 90 percent more product in the first 90 days than they had forecast running one Super Bowl ad.”

For 15 years, Tomkovick has tracked companies who advertise in the Super Bowl. He says two-thirds of them enjoy a boost in stock price, sales, and brand awareness shortly after the game. But some types of companies do better than others. For example, credit card companies and cold medicines never do that well. However, movie trailers are especially good investments.

“Typically, a Super Bowl promoted movie is 30 to 40 percent higher grossing in the first weekend than a normal big blockbuster movie,” says Tomkovick.

He adds that popular ads often feature dramatic sound, motion, and celebrities to get the audience’s attention quickly.

“You also want to throw some animals, if you can find a way to tie in animals with your brand,” Tomkovick says. “About 20 to 25 percent of Super Bowl commercials have animals. It’s like going to the zoo.”

Last year, Super Bowl ads with animals included a dog getting in shape so he could chase a car and another dog that fetched beers.

Other good advertising ingredients are humor, surprise endings, and avoiding too much discussion of the product or service advertised.

“The more you talk about your product, the less people like it,” says Tomkovick.

Counter-intuitive? Perhaps, but a recent trend in Super Bowl advertising in the last few years have been longer ads that tell a story.

In 2012, a record number –- nearly one-fifth of the spots – were 60 seconds or longer, according to Kantar Media.

Chrysler ran a two-minute advertisement, ad known as “Halftime in America,” which featured Clint Eastwood and scenes of urban Detroit.

“This country can’t be knocked out with one punch,” Eastwood says. “We get right back up again and when we do, the world is going to hear the roar of our engines.”

“I got to tell you, it brought tears to my eyes,” says marketing consultant Jonathan Salem Baskin.

Baskin says he enjoys watching these longer, more narrative-driven ads, but he also thinks they’re a waste of money because they prioritize entertaining consumers over informing them about the product or service the company is trying to sell. He doesn’t buy the argument that brands benefit just by having people like their ads. Most people won’t remember the company behind these ads after game day, he says.

“Ah yes, I remember that ad. That was the car ad,” says attorney and sports fan Kyle Louder, while watching ESPN at a New York sports bar. “I think it was Chevrolet or one of the major car companies, but I don’t exactly remember.”

A couple of bar stools down, Ryan Canfild remembers an ad he really liked where a little boy dressed up as Darth Vader and tried to turn on his father’s car, just by using The Force.

But even though Canfild has a friend who worked on the team that made the ad, he can’t quite remember that it was a Volkswagen ad.

“[Advertising] is not supposed to be an entertainment medium,” says Baskin. “They’re trying to sell stuff.”

And perhaps attract new customers from the millions watching. To that end, Baskin says he thinks one of the more successful Super Bowl ad campaigns came from Denny’s when they offered viewers a free Glad Slam breakfast if they came restaurants on a specific day after the game.

One version of the ad featured chickens screaming in fear of the free offer.

It wasn’t sexy or slick, but millions people came in to try the breakfasts. It wasn’t entertaining, but as an ad, Baskin says it worked.

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