Your Biggest Fumble

I wouldn’t recommend doing a Super Bowl commercial to any of our clients, mostly because we try to do advertising that actually works.

I used to watch the Super Bowl with my dad when I was a little kid. Cheese and crackers, the Super Bowl, maybe I’d have a sip of his beer (shh!). Even then, I remember being more excited about the commercials than usual, and that the commercials were more interesting than the ones I saw on other shows.

When I stopped watching the Super Bowl with my dad, I stopped seeing the Super Bowl commercials for a while. Every few years I tuned into the game just to see the ads, until later in life when it turned into a professional interest. Now I won’t even do that. I’ll do what everyone else does who is interested in the Super Bowl ads—I’ll watch them online the next day.

But then, I figure that anyone who would tune in to a football game just to see the ads is already taking an academic point of view towards advertising and is probably less likely to be influenced.

So, even if we watch them, do the ads, you know, work? I mean, seriously, if you are tuning in just to watch a series of very expensive, over-the-top commercials, for what—three-plus hours? How can any one commercial “work”? Like are you shopping for a car or shampoo or online trading company or new pants, and you think, “Well I should really check out the Super Bowl this year, that’s always the best showcase for emerging brands and products?” No! You’re watching because it’s completely ridiculous to spend $3 million on one commercial and you want to see a bunch of brands put on a show, trying to outdo each other to get your attention.

Instead of you paying to be entertained, someone is paying to entertain you. It’s a nice little empowering twist, and you appreciate it. Which, it’s true, does count for something. Or maybe you miss the dot-com years when a good commercial involved launching a monkey in a rocket.

And actually, the dot-com era was a good test—remember when there were all those startups that used their millions all on one Super Bowl ad? How many are still around today? Google, eBay, Amazon. Oh wait—they didn’t advertise on the Super Bowl.

So now it’s 2007, we’ve got YouTube and Google Video and all that, and I’ll bet there will be a bunch of bloggers in and outside of the industry that will take the initiative to post commercials on YouTube before the game is even over. There will be some good “viral buzz” around that, which will go into a PowerPoint presentation later that week to be presented to the client. More useless metrics will be bandied about. Press releases will be issued. The client will be well-chuffed—not because the results are astounding, but because they are the type of client already predisposed to make a Super Bowl ad.

I am 100 percent certain that nobody runs a Super Bowl ad because he thinks it’s a really smart advertising strategy. They do it because they are Making A Super Bowl Commercial. It’s heady, intoxicating stuff. It’s glamorous. It is, however, completely unrelated to marketing efficacy.

So, am I saying that nobody should do a Super Bowl ad? Well, some products that are directly tied to the game, that are an iconic institution of the game, yeah, go for it. I suspect every football fan would actually notice if the big beer brands didn’t have some beer-war advertising, and I don’t think Miller and Bud should ever stop duking it out. In fact, all beer companies are expressly excluded from any negative advice in this article. And yeah, there’s the multimillion-dollar gamble that you make the best spot, and people remember it for a year. I still remember the FedEx spot from last year. Beyond that, though, is there anyone that would be noticeably absent if they didn’t advertise? Think for a second.

And even including the “winners” of Super Bowl advertising, I know this: I am 100 percent certain that if any brand came to us with their Super Bowl budget, we could do something that would get more visibility, be more fun to make, more interesting to the audience, better for the brand, and more effective than a Super Bowl ad—and probably without even going near a television. You could too.