Are Super Bowl ads worth it?

Source: “Road to Super Bowl LVI” – PepsiCo
Feb 01, 2022

Previous research has determined that there really isn’t a boost in sales for brands after their Super Bowl ads air. A new university study, however, finds Super Bowl ads bring immediate spikes in online searches and word-of-mouth impressions, although short-lived.

The study from University of Minnesota Carlson School exploring how Super Bowl ads impact word-of-mouth marketing found advertisers should expect to see:

  • A 16 percent increase in total word-of-mouth (both online and offline conversations) the month of the game;
  • A 22 percent word-of-mouth increase the week after the Super Bowl;
  • A 68 percent increase in solely online word-of-mouth on the day of the Super Bowl.

Linli Xu, an assistant professor at the Carlson School, said buying a Super Bowl ad may be worth it for the buzz. “Paying big money for the commercial could help a firm reach its goal of increasing brand awareness or staying connected with its customers,” she said in a statement.

Ad inventory for 2022’s February 13 game has been virtually sold out since September, with the top price for a 30-second spot hitting a record $6.5 million. NBC was seeking $6 million per spot, a 9.1 percent increase over the last two Super Bowls.

The record rates come despite game viewership only reaching 96.4 million last year, the least-watched Super Bowl since 2007. The annual game has seen a steady decline in viewership from a record 114.4 million in 2015.

Dan Lovinger, president of ad sales and partnerships for NBCUniversal, told USA Today that the strong advertising spend reflects the healthy economy, with brands looking to advertise. This year also marks a return to more comedic and lighter creative tones two years into the pandemic, and the popularity of football that’s been helped by spectators returning to stadiums.

He said, “When you think about the NFL relative to other sports or certainly general entertainment programming, it’s really, really strong. If you’re looking to reach 100 million people, there’s only one place you can go, and that’s the Super Bowl.”

The year-over-year gains are also being spurred by the return of Hollywood studios to the list of advertisers, as well as newer categories like sports betting and cryptocurrency.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What payback should and shouldn’t marketers expect from Super Bowl ads? How should success be measured?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"The question we should ask ourselves is: Are Super Bowl ads simply a vanity play for advertisers?"
"I read in Ad Age that ALL sports ads are premiums because they’re the only shows that people don’t record and skip the ads. Makes sense."
"I can see a payback in brand awareness. That is hard to measure in immediate spikes in sales."

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23 Comments on "Are Super Bowl ads worth it?"

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Zel Bianco

Marketers use their Super Bowl commercials to gain awareness, make a splash and create buzz. Smart marketers start the process before the big day in social media, and then again after the game for a week or two to achieve the maximum exposure. Is it worth it? Many still use the original Macintosh commercial as the benchmark which is unrealistic.

Paula Rosenblum

I have never understood the ROI of a Super Bowl ad and how a company would quantify it. It’s certainly a brand builder (the first time I heard of GoDaddy was a tacky Super Bowl commercial it did, now, they control our DNS information), but beyond that — I KNOW there’s no pop in sales.

Long and short, I don’t know how success should be measured. I mean, Pepsi and Budweiser have plenty of name recognition. Do I care about Clydesdales?

The question we should ask ourselves is: Are Super Bowl ads simply a vanity play for advertisers?

Nikki Baird

I think we need to expand the definition of the timeframe that is involved in looking at Super Bowl ads. Here we are, two weeks out, discussing (and viewing) intended Super Bowl ads, which either are already available or are in their run-up/preview stage. Just looking at the impact of the day itself is a very old school/old media way of thinking about something that has expanded to pretty much every social channel out there, and for weeks before (which is likely more important than any of the time after).

At least one thing promises to be good for advertisers this year: practically every playoff game ended in overtime or at least went right down to the wire. Hopefully the big game will follow suit – blowouts are bad for advertisers!

Dave Bruno

I couldn’t agree more, Nikki – Super Bowl ads should be treated as campaigns, including pre-game, in-game and post-game support and promotion.

Bob Amster

I can see a payback in brand awareness. That is hard to measure in immediate spikes in sales. This increased brand awareness has a longer life and long-term impact on sales that cannot be directly attributed to this or last year’s Super Bowl. It could be due to the Super Bowl ad of two years ago!

Joel Rubinson

I’d go to principles to address this. The first principle is that research has shown that if an ad doesn’t drive sales lift in the short term, it doesn’t work in the long term either. Second principle — when you see a spike in searches, that actually might not mean much. On two brands I studied, a pet food and a laptop brand, the conditional probability of an add to cart event was low given a branded search. One thing I notice about Super Bowl advertising is that it tends to be high art. They save the branding moment for the crescendo a lot of times too. I think this is a mistake. Super Bowl ads should follow good creative principles and you should not assume that your brand is as interesting to consumers as it is to you.

Dick Seesel

The motivation behind splashy Super Bowl ads, and the outcomes, depend on the type of brand or product being advertised. A movie studio wants to create buzz, and ultimately sell tickets (or views) for its big summer releases; on the other hand, a new brand may need to go all-in on the ad expense to create awareness.

Finally, the legacy brands (think Anheuser-Busch) have a twofold reason: First, to introduce new products to the marketplace; and, more importantly, to establish that they are the “alpha” brands.

Lisa Goller

As the Mecca of marketing, the Super Bowl helps advertisers differentiate and amplify their brand story.

Expect payback in higher brand awareness, social media engagement and search rank visibility. Yet don’t expect an immediate spike in sales. Consistent quality, word-of-mouth and glowing reviews will drive sales long after the big game.

Advertisers can measure success with share of search on Google and Amazon, and social media impressions and shares. User generated content inspired by Super Bowl ads also improves a brand’s top-of-mind status.

Dave Bruno

I have three words for anyone wondering whether Super Bowl ads are worth it: 100 million impressions. Nothing else in today’s fragmented media landscape comes close to offering that kind of reach. So, if impressions and awareness are the key metrics, Super Bowl ads are likely a good investment. Beyond those two metrics, I am not sure how much Super Bowl ads will move the needle. People are, ahem, partying and not necessarily engaging with deeper content!

Lee Peterson

I read in Ad Age that ALL sports ads are premiums because they’re the only shows that people don’t record and skip the ads. Makes sense. So when you literally have billions of eyeballs on your ad for sure, yeah, it’s worth it. You just can’t do that anymore.

Perry Kramer

With the continued growth of the number of social media platforms and the corresponding growth in importance a Super Bowl advertisement that generates positive buzz is probably worth the money. Keeping a brand top-of-mind can be a key factor in retaining customers. In this highly competitive market, retaining customers is often as important as seeing sales growth. Also, skipping an add can be a negative for some brands that have become associated with Super Bowl advertisements.

Dr. Stephen Needel

The good news is that you get incredible reach with just one showing of an ad. The bad news is, there’s never been much evidence to say you get any increase in sales. It’s all well and good to say you build buzz or, as Dick puts it, solidify an alpha dog position, but you spend a lot of money – you’d like to see some return for it. Anheuser-Busch has created memorable ads for years (my favorites, usually) but I don’t know that they are selling more Bud because of it.

Rich Kizer

Super Bowl ads are mostly about product recognition, entertainment and agency recognition. Among advertising agencies, this is their Super Bowl and it is critical to win the war of consumer favorites and compliments. It is an important, wild and critical competition. Underlying this battlefield, manufacturers are demanding that these campaigns will fight for and generate, great top-of-mind awareness for their products — they better!

Brian Kelly
1 year 3 months ago

it depends upon how one is using the event.
Is it an ad buy or more? Is it investor relations, consumer promotion, internal motivation, or hometown strategy? There are lots of ways to increase the ROI based upon how the investment is measured.

David Slavick

A 30-second spot in the Super Bowl is a way for any advertiser to put their brand in the national dialogue, enter consumer consciousness and, in many cases, introduce a new product or service with associated impressions in other media. It is a fulcrum point or anchor for the overall campaign. It fuels production value investment. It creates buzz through general consumer outreach (Doritos amateur spots) or is a way to launch a new TV series following the post-game. Lots of eyeballs. Payback on its own? Absolutely not!

Cathy Hotka

Variety says that a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl costs $6 million. That’s a drop in the bucket for large companies, and if the ad is well-received it will gain millions of new viewers on late-night programs and the Internet. Sounds like a sound investment to me.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

For brands that are strategic and clever Super Bowl ads can deliver near- and long-term results. Aren’t we still talking about Macintosh, Budweiser frogs and Clydesdales, the eTrade baby, Coke and Mean Joe Green?

John Hyman
1 year 3 months ago

What other ad platform affords immediate exposure to a huge viewership across the entire planet? Commercials are like salespeople – most people despise them. But the Super Bowl is the one advertising event that assures the commercials are being watched and enjoyed. 🙂 Some years the commercials are incredibly creative and well produced (still love the Tabasco pizza commercial). Even non-NFLers watch and discuss the commercials for days.

Steve Montgomery

As Mr. Lovinger stated, the Super Bowl is the only place where you might reach 100 million people with one ad. The value of the ad may not be justified by its expense when measured against an immediate sales response, but good ads tend to have a longer life than just their appearance during the Super Bowl.
They are discussed by viewers and even non-viewers, and in the media for a period of time after the game. They also can be reused by the advertiser. Are they worth the cost? Not sure, but it certainly appears the advertisers believe they are.

Jeff Weidauer

Super Bowl ads are an ego trip or — for large, long-time participants — an expectation. It’s like an Oscar you can buy if you want recognition. But unless the single spot is part of a connected campaign across all media, it’s a waste of money.

Craig Sundstrom

If you’re looking to reach 100 million people, there’s only one place you can go, and that’s the Super Bowl I think this sums up the situation perfectly … and of course if you aren’t, then you shouldn’t.

And most people aren’t: the days of untargeted mass advertising are likely over … permanently. Despite the enthusiasm of those selling the ad time — imagine! — I think the fact of “a steady decline in viewership from a record 114.4 million in 2015” will eventually catch up with them.

Harley Feldman

Eyeballs are the key metric for the Super Bowl. A company’s messages reach one of the largest audiences either via TV or Internet connected devices. While this exposure might not translate into immediate sales, the memorable commercials will be talked about and remembered for a long time.

Anil Patel

Viewers don’t ignore ads while watching Super Bowls. Instead of switching channels during intermission, viewers, in fact, pay full attention to each and every commercial. So, Super Bowl is an excellent opportunity for marketers to enhance brand recall.

IMO, the success of Super Bowl ads is immeasurable. A creative and relevant ad helps marketers create an impression that would last long even after the game’s over.

"The question we should ask ourselves is: Are Super Bowl ads simply a vanity play for advertisers?"
"I read in Ad Age that ALL sports ads are premiums because they’re the only shows that people don’t record and skip the ads. Makes sense."
"I can see a payback in brand awareness. That is hard to measure in immediate spikes in sales."

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