February 25, 2016
I was lucky enough to attend Super Bowl XL. The experience is one in a million. Two top teams, amped up to play the most important game of their lives. But then the live action just stops, for what seems like a really long time. Why? The network is airing commercials.
Super Bowl ads have become as important as the game itself. Over the years, a whole cottage industry has exploded, starting with the USA Today day-after analysis and ad-meter ratings and now including pre-releases, extended versions, Twitter feeds, mobile tie-ins and more.
In the stadium we were treated to a few select commercials on the Jumbotron, including the acclaimed Doritos ad that I loved. Otherwise we were blissfully unaware of the ads, other than having to sit through the aforementioned interminable delays.
Having missed most of the ads during the game, I went online the next day to see which commercials got the most hype. I was disappointed. I found a couple interesting ads but lots of boring ones. The usual suspects and common themes, and not a lot of excitement.
That confused me, particularly given the data on ad costs and viewership over the years:
In what industry can you justify a 3.6X price increase with less than 20% increase in demand? Or more recently, 60% increase in rates in the last 5 years, while viewership has been flat?
The age-old rationale is that of eyeballs: Where else can you get this many viewers all together in one place (9 of the top 10 rated shows of all time are the last 9 Super Bowls)? But it doesn’t make much sense given the push toward data-driven behavioral advertising.
I have two theories on why these ad rates continue to climb.
- Relationships. By unofficial count, about 75% of the Super Bowl ads were from companies that have a pre-existing advertising relationship with the NFL. They are official league sponsors for a category, or have been heavy advertisers during the year. If you want to continue to have those eyeballs throughout the season, then you should probably pony up the money for an ad.
- Non-TV. I’m wondering if non-broadcast related traffic and eyeballs make the actual ad worth it on some level. That is, you’re paying $5mm for the 100mm+ viewers of the show, but in reality you’re banking on the pre-Super Bowl, during-Super Bowl, and post-Super Bowl viewership of those ads on various platforms. You’re counting on the mobile/online tie-ins, increased traffic to your site, Twitter and Instagram tie-ins. That’s what justifies the expense.
The first one I can understand on some level. Quid pro quo. I wonder about the second one, however. Is the cost of a game-time commercial worth it when you have companies like Gatorade running a Snapchat ad with Serena that had 100mm+ views by the day after the Super Bowl? Or Esurance offering up to $50,000 to folks who retweeted their post-game ad hashtag, plus a $250k grand prize, for a record 2.5mm retweets and 1.5 BILLION media impressions? Or Wix.com with their online hub, YouTube channel, four teaser ads and 36mm+ views of their online ads on top of their 30 second in-game ad?
When I see stats like “The 10 most viral ads were shared 36% less than in 2015” and “Almost half of last year’s advertisers did not advertise this year”, I wonder if the future might see a change in Super Bowl ad rates. Or maybe not. After all, this is the NFL and if there’s one thing we’ve learned, professional football is a freight train that is incredibly hard to derail!
Food for thought. Doritos, anyone?