Super Bowl ads are so 20th century

by Ron on January 27, 2014

Football commemorating 2014 Super bowl in New York.We are in that two-week period leading up to the Super Bowl, one of the most over hyped events in sports, and with it we are getting previews and “leaks”  of Super Bowl ads, but in a time when you can talk to your customers directly on social media, is the cost of a Super Bowl ad really worth it? I say, in most case it’s probably not.

Just how much is an ad going to cost during the Super Bowl? According to Huffington Post, the cost has risen to a record $3.8 million for 30 seconds of our attention. Far out of range of most midsize businesses, that’s for sure.

If you want a line up of this year’s ads, Ad Age has kindly set up a score card of sorts for you. With everyone from Scarlett Johansson to Stephen Colbert to David Beckham, there will be no shortage of big names and costly stars to lure you to watch these ads and buy these products.

Of course, for some the ads are as exciting as the game itself. How great is that for the advertisers? If you’re going to spend all that cash, at least you can be sure many folks actually wait for the commercials and talk about them on social media, which is a goal. Get people talking about your brand. Most weeks during the NFL season, we use the commercial breaks as an excuse to check Facebook, get a beer or hit the bathroom, but the ads are part of the cultural experience of the Super Bowl.

But for companies with the brand recognition of Budweiser, Audi, Axe and Bank of America is the ad going to excite your existing customers? Is it going to make them want to buy more of your products or services? Is it going to make them go out and sell your products for you by being a brand ambassador –and even if they did would that good will extend beyond that brief window on Sunday evening of the game? Will it attract new customers? The answer to all those questions is probably not.

And that price tag is just the cost to play. It doesn’t include the cost of your celebrity spokesperson and the whole production budget and so forth. It very likely runs into tens of millions and you have to ask yourself if it’s worth the money and the time and the resources.

Consider the most explosive and talked about brand after the 2013 Super Bowl was Oreo, which didn’t buy an ad. It simply has a social media staff that was paying attention, and when there was a blackout during the halftime show, Oreo’s crackerjack staff pounced with this tweet, which people are still talking about today as a bit of social media genius:

It didn’t take a huge budget to get people talking about Oreos. All it took was a bit of imagination and the ability to seize a moment. So skip the Super Bowl hype and do some real social media marketing instead. And as a midsize business, that’s a huge lesson to take away. You don’t need the resources of these brands to reach your audience today because you have the power of social media.

Don’t preach to your customers and potential customers with a multi-million dollar ad, talk with them and let them get involved in the conversation. Better yet, get them talking about you and speaking on your behalf –because if you can do that, you will be far better off than the brands who have put all these resources into a Super Bowl ad. And you’ll very likely get much more bang for your buck, one that will live long after the game is over.

Photo Credit:  MTAPhotos on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 license.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Adam Zand (@NoOneYouKnow) January 27, 2014 at 12:10 pm

I hear this argument every year. I think what people miss with Super Bowl ads is that you are paying for exclusive access to a club – this includes the obvious ad, but more importantly people talking about the ad (even if it sucks) and access that other brands don’t have. Most brands are there because they can host and attend swanky parties where a huge amount of business gets done. Especially this year in media and brand and agency saturated NYC. Most of these companies are big enough that they have a social budget and plan in place that echoes this year’s themes and occasionally even “engages” with the community. Do you feel better about Pepsi during the years they skipped Super Bowl to focus on socual and community giving? Maybe, but their market share took a whack and the brand managers and retail partners missed the ability to network and sign deals.
What brands do we engage with and love on social media? Heck, there are a ton of Apple fangirl/boys out there and I don’t think Apple even has a drop of formal social budget beyond PR and customer service.
What do I know … I’m still pissed Patriots had so many injuries this year, but I’ll watch the big game and goof on the ads on social media and at a party – and may even buy some of the products.

2 josephmartins January 31, 2014 at 11:26 am

The outcome of SuperBowl investments (ads, events, etc..) depend on the company, its market and its goals. The same goes with various ways of embracing social media. For some it’s a terrible fit and investment.

I have to agree with Ron here. Here’s why…

An estimated 2/3rds of the companies that advertise during the SB experience what could best be described as a temporary “bump” in sales, stock price and awareness.* A full third of the companies experience poor results. Some, in fact, get knocked in the market if investors feel they’ve misallocated resources.

(*according to 15yrs data collected by mktg prof Charles Tomkovic, U of Wisconsin)

It certainly seems as if there are better ways to invest limited marketing resources, with longer lasting results. However, the challenge is in changing the mindset of today’s executives – and that can be accomplished by changing their incentives. Their rewards are based on short term results, not long term impact. So, they’ll continue to favor SB ads and such over the types of ongoing relationship-building that Ron suggests.

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