15 Dec 2015

How much is Superbowl advertising worth?

Does that title sound familiar? Every year the same kind of posts, articles and discussions start from Thanksgiving and continue until three months after the Superbowl is packed up and out away for another year, and the discussions can get pretty heated. The questions come up again and again and again every year, and if you are in marketing, the ‘great Superbowl question’, comes up even more regularly, usually once a month. Marketing commands the kind of figures that equal the debt of a small country will always be associated with the Superbowl, but other tournaments and sports events are starting to capitalize on a captive audience.

How can 30 seconds of air time at any sports venue REALLY be worth $4 million dollars?

Rob Siltanen, founder and chief creative officer of Siltanen & Partners, a Los Angeles-based advertising agency, in his article entitled Yes, A Super Bowl Ad Really Is Worth $4 Million, stated categorically that he believes “the Super Bowl to be one of the smartest investments a company can possibly make. In fact, the Super Bowl makes more sense today than ever before,” and he has the facts to back it up.

Siltanen owns an agency that has overseen two Super Bowl adverts, in 2012 and 2013, for the shoe company Skechers. He, his agency and of course the brand have a lot riding on such an enormous line budget item. Proudly, and rightly so for that matter, Siltanen touts the fact that over the past two years Skechers has increased its sales by an average of 26% and its stock price hit the point of tripling and he links that fact back to the 30 seconds of fame at each game. He insists that there is research that suggests that 50% of the Superbowl viewing figures are from people solely tuning in to watch the commercials and skipping the game.

Is it really that simple?

If one Superbowl advert really could lead to a magical 26% increase in any companies bottom line, then they wouldn’t cost $4 million, they’d be worth an awful lot more than that.

Siltanen asserts that, “What other venue says you’re a first-rate, big-time, trustworthy brand more than the Super Bowl?” Really? That’s all there is to it? It would appear not. Consumers are much better informed than they used to be, and way too switched on to marketing to follow any brand blindly just because they occupied 30 seconds of Superbowl air.

As attractive as it may sound in the terms of ROI, Superbowl advertising is not for every brand.

David Brier a journalist for Fast Company wrote:

“It’s the SuperBowl so the right product would make sense for that effort. In other words The National Cremation Society would not be as fitting as, oh I don’t know, how about beer and chips! I would never see advertising real estate i.e. Century 21 or financial planning. Who the heck is thinking ‘You know, I really need to plan for the future’ while watching the Super Bowl?”

Couldn’t agree more, and a marketing budget of $4 million will go a long way if you’re careful. But that gives rise to the original question, is $4 million really the price of a Superbowl commercial, and is there anything you can do that is as effective – but cheaper? It’s worth looking at the alternatives.

The figures that get advertised about the cost of air time could be kept private. There is no reason to discuss the cost of a commercial; we don’t discuss the cost of a commercial at any other time do we? By releasing the cost of each marketing spot a value is placed on that time and on the companies that can afford it. It suggests that Superbowl advertising is a luxury few companies can afford, or are prepared to risk. It creates the ‘awe’ factor before it has even been produced and aired and encourages a feeling of anticipation about what the companies will do with the liquid gold time – and that translates into money.

Every marketer works towards a campaign that will hold the eyes of the world in the palm of their hand and hopes that when they get it, they don’t screw it up. The Superbowl IS that opportunity, so the commercials have to be larger than life and bigger than Beyoncé. That also translates into money, only this time it’s paying it. The commercials that run at half time have all cost at least another $1.5 million, escalating quickly if the product is costly. It all adds up to something that with a lot of planning, can’t fail.

The problem is, it still doesn’t answer the question, ‘Is Superbowl advertising really worth it?’

The feeling about Superbowl advertising is propagated that if you can’t afford $8 million a minute, you can’t play with ‘the big boys’, but in the digital age, that really isn’t true. Effective Superbowl advertising can be free.

What was the most memorable advertising from 2015’s Superbowl? Remember the car ad? What car was that again? Or the Anheuser-Busch Brewery advert? Who? Or was it the ‘Dunk in the Dark’ campaign that Oreo launched the moment there was a technical hitch and the lights went out? Most people remember the Oreo advert as it was topical, clever, humorous and very, very quick. How much did it cost? $0. Zero. Zip. Nada, and it didn’t take 18 months to create either.

The Importance of being in the ‘Now’

Oreo were quick to respond to the moment, but also had enough forethought to set themselves up to be ready to react in real time to anything that happened. The cost was maybe a few hours of overtime for their social media players, which amounts in real terms to next to nothing. Their ROI on the exposure they got far outweighed anything the million dollar major players received.

One reporter said it was amazing to see the lights go out in the arena, and then it seemed like everyone got their mobile devices out at the same time which lit up the seating like fireflies.

How did Oreo make sure they were ahead of the game?

Almost two years ago, Ad Exchanger reports, as Oreo approached its 100th birthday the company decided that it would do something on social media every day rather than occasionally as a year-long celebration.

The company eventually set up a war room, used analytics, feedback and monitored activity closely to figure out what was meaningful to its followers — who at the moment number 32 million on Facebook and about 80,000 on Twitter.

One of its early successes was the gay pride Oreo Facebook post from June last year.

When the lights went out at the New Orleans Super Dome during the Ravens v. 49ers game, Oreo had a well-oiled machine in place that were used to interacting ‘in the moment’ on social media, every day. As a result, their tweet was retweeted more than 16,000 times, and became one of the more memorable ad moments of the game, and all for free.

The popularity, and subsequent ROI, of the ‘Dunk in the dark’ tweet will now push these digital avenues to the forefront of sports event marketing. The jury is out as to whether it will devalue the cost of the TV commercials, but anyone who wants to make an impact at the 2016 Superbowl has less than six months to be set up and ready to take the digital marketing social media arena by storm.

The only problem is, the power outage was a once in a lifetime opportunity – what on earth can top that?