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Do super-expensive Super Bowl commercials warrant the cost?
Once the game is over and the champion crowned, millions of Americans will spend the morning after the Super Bowl rehashing the annual TV extravaganza.
Most, of course, will talk about the commercials.
Which was the best? Which was the worst? The funniest? The saddest? Which one made no sense whatsoever?
But there are deeper questions few armchair advertisers ask: Did any commercial inspire or convince you to buy the product being advertised? Did any commercial persuade you to switch brand loyalty? Did any commercial motivate you to visit the company’s website?
And then there’s this: Will you honestly remember any of the commercials – or what they were actually hawking behind each slick and expensive veneer – in a week?
Companies believe so, say two NIU College of Business faculty members, and that’s all that matters when paying $4.5 million for 30 seconds in front of 111 million pairs of eyes.
“From a marketing angle, we truly believe that the market dictates the price. Companies obviously are willing to purchase these advertisements, and thus I do feel it is worth the cost for these companies that engage,” says Mya Pronschinske Groza, an assistant professor in the Department of Marketing.
“You also need to look at the amount of play the ads are getting after the Super Bowl through word-of-mouth at work with colleagues and with family members,” Groza adds.
“And with today’s social media and the ability to share these advertisements online, the Super Bowl ads are getting so much action after the game. The Super Bowl is just a starting-off point. The weeks following are where they’re really getting their value for the high cost.”
Sandy Domagalski, an instructor in marketing, calls it “the age-old question.”
“Marketers would not do something or pay that much money if it wasn’t working,” she says. “It really depends on your goal. Is it brand recognition? Brand awareness? Or are you just trying to sell something?”
If the answer starts with “brand,” she says, then maybe the Super Bowl is the perfect venue.
Domagalski points to Illinois-based WeatherTech, a maker of automotive accessories that took the Super Bowl plunge last year. The company accelerated its goal of creating brand awareness and has purchased another ad for Sunday, she says.
Or Career Builder, memorable for its Super Bowl ads about working with monkeys: “They saw a huge increase of people applying for jobs online,” she says.
“When it comes down to whether to spend that money, you have to ask yourself, ‘Are we able to cut through the clutter?’ Marketers need to understand that this is probably the only time consumers are watching for the ads. We actually get excited for the ads.”
Indeed. Research has shown that when a company publicly confirms its participation in the Super Bowl commercial bonanza, its stock price rises on the mere announcement. However, Groza says, those stocks do not necessarily continue to climb after the broadcast.
Meanwhile, more and more companies are releasing their commercials in advance of the game – in essence, spoiling the surprise – but their strategy is clear and shrewd. Previews on national TV morning shows provide broad exposure, manufacture buzz and come without a $4.5 million price tag.
“Part of it comes down to publicity. They’re creating news when maybe there is no news,” Domagalski says. “They have no new product to get out. They have nothing new or special happening with the company. They’re doing this to create some hype.”
Social media offers even greater “global reach,” they say.
“Social media is a powerful tool for companies to engage with their consumers. Companies are taking advantage of this and trying to get the most for their money with that multimillion-dollar expense. They want the ‘likes.’ They want the tweets,” Groza says.
“And,” Domagalski adds, “you cannot assume, as much as you’d like to, that everyone out there is watching the game, especially teenagers and millennials. They’re on social media.”
“The students who have shared their Facebook pages with me have friends in China, India, all over the world,” Groza says. “Consumers who aren’t even watching the actual event are still interacting with these commercials.”
For those companies eager to join the conversation but hesitant, unwilling or unable to spend the millions, social media also opens that door.
Some situate their marketing staff and advertising representatives in a “war room” during the game to react and interact immediately, Domagalski says: Don’t forget how Oreo responded two years ago when the lights malfunctioned in the Super Bowl stadium.
“ ‘Dunk in the Dark,’ ” she says. “The marketers were on top of things when the lights went out. They were able to advertise in a fun way without people realizing they were being advertised to.”
So what about the familiar faces, such as perennials Budweiser, Pepsi and Doritos? After all these years, what’s in it for them?
“Consumers expect it,” Groza says. “If one of the big brands that has been advertising in the Super Bowl year after year pulled out, there would be pushback and chatter on social media. It’s a Catch 22 for the companies once they’re involved.”
Those giants need to watch their backs, though.
Groza believes next year’s big game will feature the debut of a “crowd-funded” commercial that advertises several smaller brands in one package. The talk is brewing among companies such as New Castle, which like other beer makers is cut off from the Super Bowl thanks to Budweiser’s exclusive contract.
“With the new trend of crowd-funding, New Castle is saying, ‘Hey, why don’t we let the people dictate and create what ads should be in the Super Bowl?’ I don’t know if we’ll see a crowd-funded ad in the Super Bowl this year, but I predict that will occur in 2016,” she says.
“A crowd-funding platform creates goodwill – this is from the people, for the people – and will get a lot of recognition,” she adds. “If those smaller brands could poke fun at those big brands that pay so much, that could be an effective strategy.”