Why the Super Bowl Is the One Time of Year People Actually Want to Watch Ads

Consumers see them as a form of entertainment

Americans tend to regard Super Bowl spots as entertainment more than advertising. Getty Images
Headshot of Robert Klara

Though marketers probably don’t want to think about it, Americans really don’t like advertising very much. A 2012 survey by Mancx found that advertising is a big complaint about the internet (54 percent of those surveyed think there are too many ads), and a Gallup survey found that 37 percent of people have a negative view of the advertising industry overall. A Harris poll conducted last summer found that millennials—that darling group that every advertiser is courting—are especially ad-averse: seventy-four percent object to being singled out by brands in their social media feeds, and a whopping 56 percent have quit a social media site just to get away from the ads.

So it’s worth pointing out a finding by a just-released study from the Burson-Marsteller Fan Experience (BMFE): fifty-three percent of Americans say they’d be disappointed if the Super Bowl went commercial free—and that number is actually up 5 percent from last year.

Setting aside that a commercial-free Super Bowl is probably never going to happen, think about what that means: Could the Big Game possibly be the only time of year that people actually want to stare at advertising?

“Yes, without a doubt,” said BMFE chair Jason Teitler—and there’s a reason, he adds. “People want to see what the brands are doing because it constitutes entertainment.”

"We found a lot of people who’d prefer to see the ads for the first time during the game. They want the surprise factor."
BMFE chair Jason Teitler

Another way of putting this: Most ads that Americans encounter these days—from pop-ups to pre-rolls to sponsored tweets—are usually not fun. But Super Bowl ads usually are, so watching them doesn’t feel like the poke in the shoulder that ads so often are.

BMFE’s findings (drawn from a sample group of 1,000 Super Bowl fans) mirror some of those revealed last summer by HubSpot Research. HubSpot polled 1,055 consumers and learned that 85 percent of them believed “not all ads are bad,” yet many people found advertising to be intrusive, unprofessional, or even insulting to their intelligence.

Another key finding of BMFE’s survey: Not only do Americans generally enjoy watching Super Bowl spots, they wish brands would quit releasing them days or even weeks before the game.

“We found a lot of people who’d prefer to see the ads for the first time during the game,” Teitler said. “They want the surprise factor.” If a brand is going to drop $5 million for a “big punch,” he said, “why not do it in the biggest way possible?”

Why indeed. Until quite recently, no company in its right mind would have revealed its showcase spot before game night—an article of faith blown to bits in 2011 when Volkswagen committed the heresy of unveiling its kid Darth Vader ad, “The Force” in advance. When that spot notched 11 million views, the industry took note. Now, showing Super Bowl ads before the Super Bowl is standard practice.

“Brands want to be first and they want to be the best and they want to be the loudest and that contributes to a tendency to go earlier and earlier,” Teitler said. “And sure, you might get buzz, but then people are a lot less [excited], when they see it running, it waters down your marketing message.”

The upshot: Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to hold onto that big spot until game night. After all, as we now know, it’s the one time of year that Americans actually feel like watching commercials.

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@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.