Are Super Bowl ads worth the money?

Sunday's game featured several memorable commercials, but lesser-known companies should stick to spending their advertising dollar online

Ads like this were viewed by over 111 million Americans during Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI, making it the most-watched television program in U.S. history.
Ads like this were viewed by over 111 million Americans during Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI, making it the most-watched television program in U.S. history.
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In an H&M ad during Sunday’s Super Bowl, English footballer David Beckham posed in briefs to promote his new line of underwear.

Sure, it grabbed our attention, but it might have been a multi-million-dollar mistake.

With a 30-second commercial at this year’s Super Bowl estimated to cost $3.5 million US, companies should be considering the value of their advertising dollars.

And while major companies like Pepsi and Fiat continue to pour money into American football’s biggest day of the year, there’s increasing reason to believe it’s not worth it.

A Feb. 2 Bloomberg article reported that media giant Viacom’s advertising earnings among its cable television networks fell nearly 3 per cent in the last year. It’s an ongoing decline that has coincided with the growth of platforms like Facebook and Google.

But if television ad earnings are on the decline, why does a 30-second Super Bowl commercial remain so expensive?

For one thing, you get massive exposure. A reported 111 million Americans watched Sunday’s game.

The Super Bowl was also a hit in Canada. According to TSN, an estimated 7.3 million Canadians tuned in, making it the most-watched Super Bowl in Canadian history.

But it’s not necessarily a lack of exposure that’s killing the TV advertising industry — it’s that, as a marketer, you don’t know who your audience is.

Knowing your audience is important. An ad shown during the Super Bowl might reach 100 million people, but are all those people inclined to buy your product? Unless you’re Pepsi, probably not.

Online platforms like Facebook and Google are quickly overtaking traditional advertising mediums because of the ability to target only those who are most likely to purchase your product or service.

Want to display an ad for your local business only on the Facebook profiles of people within a 20-kilometre radius? No problem.

It’s the ability to target individual users that gives online platforms an edge. And it’s why Facebook has gone from making almost zero ad revenue in 2008 to over $4 billion US last year.

Fortunately for Super Bowl ad lovers, many companies are beginning to embrace a hybrid model combining television advertising with social networks.

Tortilla chip brand Doritos continued its user-generated Crash the Super Bowl contest this year, where fans were invited to post their own homemade Doritos ads to YouTube. Winning ads, produced for as little as $20, were featured on TV during the game.

This year also marked the beginning of YouTube’s Super Bowl Ad Blitz, where the video-sharing site has uploaded over 60 ads for unlimited viewing. Users can also post comments and like their favourite videos.

Brands and companies don’t want the conversation to stop after you see their ad once. They’re smart to make their high-priced Super Bowl ads available for free online.

It’s the type of interactive content being created by brands like Doritos that will keep Super Bowl ads relevant long after the game is over — even if the cost remains high.

But if there’s any valid reason to pay over $3 million for a half-minute ad, it applies more to well-known brands. That’s why we expect to see ads from heavyweights like Pepsi, Toyota and Budweiser.

Smaller companies are better off spending money on platforms like Google and Facebook where they can target users who really want their product.

The Super Bowl has long been one of the most prestigious TV advertising events of the year, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

But as the industry continues to shift towards a more targeted, social media based model, companies and brands of all sizes should be taking notice.

Avalon McLean-Smits is a fourth-year student in the Queen’s department of film and media.

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