Why The Super Bowl Is Still Worth The Excitement—And The $4 Million

Every year, the Super Bowl and its outsized ad rates provoke a debate about ROI for brands. Venables Bell & Partners' Lucy Farey-Jones presents data from her agency's Bowl poll and argues that seeing the game as simply an expensive 30-second spot is missing the point.

In adland there’s been a lot of hand-wringing lately that Super Bowl advertising is a waste of millions. It’s easy to see why the industry is rethinking advertising in the big game. The average cost for a 30-second spot has risen 38% from 2010 to a gut-punching $4 million. However, I’d like to argue the exact opposite; there has never been a better day in history to spend your marketing dollars. And here’s why.

Critics simply aren't taking into consideration the new age of media consumption. As we are all aware, collective viewing experiences overall have taken a nosedive. Breaking Bad made headlines for its season finale that attracted 10.3 million viewers—the highest viewership of any show in 2013. But a look back in time shows the demise of collective viewing. The 1983 M*A*S*H finale? 105.9 million viewers. Seinfeld's 1998 swan song? 76.3 million viewers.

As the chart below shows, there has been a precipitous decrease in collective viewership of major network events (even the Oscars). The Super Bowl stands apart in sharp contrast.

With a Super Bowl spot, brands are buying a rare opportunity to address the nation. My agency Venables Bell & Partners has witnessed this first hand in our experience creating Audi’s seven consecutive Super Bowl spots and our Super Bowl study (which has annually polled 1,000 Americans) quantifying the growing appetite for big game ads over the past five years. In 2011, our survey indicated 59% of Americans were looking forward to ads, but in this year’s study we hit an all-time high of a heady 78%. This year our study also indicates the ads will take center stage, as viewers are just as likely to talk about the ads as they are the plays.

The psychology behind this collective viewing event makes the potential for brands even greater. With 85% of Americans gathering with friends and family to watch the Super Bowl, the conversation about ads is a hot topic and many want to arm themselves to be "in-the-know." We found that 70% will pay attention to ads before the game, with almost half (45%) actually seeking out ads before kickoff—marking a 350% increase in our study since 2010. This goes to show that pre-releasing ads pays off. In fact, YouTube just announced that ads for the Super Bowl were watched on that platform more than 80 million times before the game was played, and overall, ads uploaded to YouTube before the game generated about 3.4 times more views on average.

Not only is it about pre-game excitement, this media buy is one that keeps giving—Super Bowl ads leave behind an increasingly massive digital footprint. In fact, Facebook announced that “Super Bowl” was the most talked-about term in 2013. Furthermore, in our study more than half of America said they would re-watch their favorite ad (another all-time high), thus proving the value of the buy. 36% of survey respondents told us they will share their favorite ads this year, with 77% sharing via Facebook. Which, if you do the math, means with 108.7 million viewers and the average Facebook user having 130 friends, this could have the potential to yield an additional 3.9 billion impressions for advertisers.

The idea that marketers are paying $4 million for a mere 30-second commercial misses the point. While it’s virtually impossible to measure the immediate sales impact of one spot, $4 million now buys you the attention of a nation willing to listen, and waiting to share, which is really remarkable when you consider that almost half of homes have DVR. Can adland really put a price on that?

So on February 2, shut down your DVR and get excited for the most exciting day in marketing history.

Lucy Farey-Jones is Partner, Executive Director of Strategy, Venables Bell & Partners.

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[Image: Flickr user Sashimomura]

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