Are Super Bowl Ads Worth The Cost?

February 2, 2012

Every year the Super Bowl is the one of the most-watched televised events in the United States, with an estimated 160 million people tuned in to see who will be crowned NFL champion. And inevitably, some of the media hype surrounds how much each 30-second commercial spot costs. Multi-million dollar figures are quoted, and many wonder: Are Super Bowl ads worth the cost? The answer is yes; and as the following figures show, the team that hoists the Lombardi Trophy isn't the only winner on Super Bowl Sunday.

  • Cost for a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl in 2012: $3.5 Million
  • Increase from the cost for the same spot during last year's game: 17 percent
  • Total number of Super Bowl viewers: estimated 160 million
  • Total number viewing at any one time: estimated 80 to 90 million
  • Total investment, per viewer, to reach 90 million potential customers with a Super Bowl ad: less than 4 cents

That last figure makes an important point. Hold onto it, because we'll revisit it in a moment. While I don't have any data reflecting direct returns on investment for any Super Bowl advertisers (and I, unfortunately, do not have the kind of budget to advertise during the big game myself), I can only assume that the ads work for perennial advertisers such as Budweiser, Coca-Cola and Go Daddy. The reality is that Super Bowl advertising seems to be more about branding than direct sales (though promotional offers do exist; one remembers a Sales Genie ad from 2008 that had talking pandas and offered 100 free sales leads). But is that so bad? Some think so. A Huffington Post story relates how some marketers view Super Bowl commercials as a waste of money, with no direct selling and, for most campaigns, zero repetition. The contention is made that an advertiser would be better off buying 10 spots at $300,000 a crack on other shows than paying for a single Super Bowl advertisement. I get that sentiment, I really do. Repetition is important. However, I believe there are four major distinctions that make Super Bowl advertising a very good idea for those who can afford it: 1. So many people watch the Super Bowl ads that the commercials don't stop when the game is over; they're talked about for the next week at work, at the local watering hole, at the dinner table, even at business meetings. The true reach of any given Super Bowl ad – and the inherent repetition afforded by word-of-mouth discussion – is essentially unknown yet undoubtedly huge. 2. Such a huge audience isn't just ideal for mega brands. Companies just launching, or launching new products and services, can benefit huge in one fell swoop. 3. Remember my figure for the cost per person? Television advertising is typically measured in CPM – cost per thousand. Last year's Super Bowl carried a CPM of about $27. The Academy Awards, in comparison, had a CPM of roughly $10 more - $37 – and just a fraction of the audience with 38 million viewers. The reality is that it is cheaper to advertise during the Super Bowl than during most hit prime time shows, which average around $35 CPM or higher (Forbes). 4. Regarding the assertion that companies would be better off with repetition – buying 10 spots for the same price – consider this: Most Super Bowl advertisers do keep advertising beyond the big game, which more or less serves as a campaign springboard. Those commercials will be airing during prime time during the next few weeks, which offers the repetition the HP sources were after. After all, if you've got $3.5 million to spend on one ad, you can probably spend it again on 10 more. The Super Bowl ad, however, represents the better deal, if not in terms of targeting, in terms of total reach. Marketing is all about return on investment, and the less you can invest to reach more people, the better. Is Super Bowl advertising worth the cost? Look, the companies that advertise in it year in and year out didn't become some of the wealthiest institutions on Earth by being stupid. You bet your jock strap it's worth it. Sources:      

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About Brian Morris

Brian Morris serves in various capacities as a freelance writer, content developer and public relations specialist for growing small businesses. When he’s not writing, he can be found on the racquetball court - usually getting his tail kicked by guys 20 years older.

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