Is the Super Bowl Still a Strong Ad Buy?

NEW YORK In a weakened U.S. economy is advertising in the Super Bowl worth the investment? Research undertaken by the National Football League says (an unsurprising) yes, though others caution it may not be a good play for many advertisers.

The research, involving 28 chief marketing officer interviews (sponsors and non-sponsors) from September to December 2007, was undertaken to assist the NFL’s three broadcast partners, NBC, CBS and Fox. The networks partly funded the study to help in their sales pitches — and the asking price — for ad spots.

“That was the biggest goal of this research,” said Mark Waller, svp, sales and marketing at the NFL. NBC will be the first to benefit from the research as it has Super Bowl broadcasting rights for 2009, followed by CBS in 2010 and Fox in 2011.

To date, according to an NBC representative, interest and pricing are “meeting and even exceeding our expectations.” Strong ad categories so far include motion pictures and automobiles.

Regarding the study’s impact, the rep said: “The research demonstrates that the value of the Super Bowl to advertisers and the return on investment is even greater than we originally thought.” As of last month, NBC had sold 30 percent of the inventory for the 2009 game and was getting up to $3 million for some 30-second spots.

It’s the scrutiny marketers are under during the event, as demonstrated by the creation of various polls, such as USA Today‘s Ad Meter, that prompted the NFL to examine more closely the machinations of the ad buying process. “It has become, if you like, a sort of measuring stick of who’s going to be creating great advertising this year,” Waller said.

The research found that while CMOs are aware of Super Bowl advertising as a potentially lucrative opportunity, it’s also a high-cost one. Advertisers must ensure they can deliver not just in terms of creative, but consider, in many instances, timing, product innovations or new campaign launches with their “advertising moment.” “It’s not just about the commercial itself,” Waller said. “It’s about the business reasons that go with it.”

Waller noted that several CMOs felt they had been judged on how they performed on the Ad Meter. “And the reality is that they should get judged on how their business performed as a result of the advertising they ran,” he said.

Larry Vincent, group director of strategy in the Los Angeles office of the brand strategy and design consultancy Siegel and Gale, said effective Super Bowl advertising does apply when there is a direct call to action. He cautioned against participating when the ad simply says “something about the brand values or trying to communicate with the personality and the voice of the brand. [The point is] you want to get as many people as possible to understand that you have something new that you have put into the marketplace. It can be very effective in that sense — not otherwise.”

The NFL commissioned Millward Brown to measure how Super Bowl ads affect brand awareness. The firm found that brands with awareness below 60 percent had awareness increases upwards of 110 percent. And established, better-known brands had a brand uplift ranging from 12-44 percent.

“For us, it hits on all fronts,” said Cynthia McIntyre, senior director of advertising at “It speaks to job seekers. It also speaks to our employers or potential clients and our internal sales force. And ideally, that Monday usually means ‘water cooler talk,’ and that’s the perfect chatter that we’re looking for.” The job site has experienced a 52 percent sales increase year over year (from 2006 to 2007) in the first three months after the Super Bowl has ended, “so it makes sense for our business and our brand,” McIntyre added.

Not everyone agrees. “Good Super Bowl advertising works, but bad Super Bowl advertising is a real problem,” said Charlie Rutman, North American CEO of Havas’ MPG. And many advertisers are better off not doing Super Bowl ads, he said. “They’re expensive productions and expensive spots,” Rutman said. “If I have a modest budget and a 52-week business, it might work early in the year, but I’m going to pay the piper in the second half of the year when I run out of money. So each advertiser has to define whether Super Bowl ads will really work given their budget. There is no one definition.”

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