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$4 million Super Bowl commercials move the needle, but not by much

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There's good news and bad news for advertisers who plunked down a record $4 million for 30 seconds of air time to run commercials on the Super Bowl.

The good news, according to recent consumer research, is that 83.9 percent of the brands' commercials made viewers more likely to buy their products or services. The bad news is that in too many cases this increased likelihood to buy was marginal – and, for 16.1 percent of Super Bowl advertisers, negative.

Before and after

BrandAds surveyed some 37,440 consumers online – about half before the game, as a control group, and a second group, who watched the game, after.

Both groups were shown lists of advertised brands and asked to rate their likelihood to buy on a five-point scale, ranging from "very likely" to "very unlikely." The difference between the first group's ratings and the second's is attributed to seeing the commercials.

Stated purchase intent isn't the most accurate measure of whether consumers actually buy anything. But it's an awful lot more accurate – to say nothing of being more related to flesh-and-blood consumers' behavior inn the real-world marketplace – than counting clicks, likes and shares.

Winners...

On the average, each commercial made viewers 6.6 percent more likely to buy. But averages are misleading. If you have your feet in the oven and your head in the freezer, you're body's at a comfortable average temperature.

The more than 71 percent spread between the the most positively influential commercial (Hyundai Genesis, + 39.5 percent) and the most negative (Jaguar, - 31.66 percent) was even wider than the point spread between the Seahawks and the Broncos.

In addition to Hyundai Genesis, only two advertisers increased purchase likelihood by more than 30 percent.

One was Budweiser – Bud regular (+37.76 percent), not, notably, Bud Light, which was way down in the single digits (+4.11 percent). Considering that AB InBev, Budweiser's parent company, was the telecast's exclusive beer sponsor and ran a good half-dozen spots, anything less would have been a fiasco.

The other was Jeep Cherokee, at +36.05 percent.

Only four brands cracked the twenties – the Jerry Seinfeld promo for Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (+25.57 percent); Sony Crackle (+25.6); Sonos wireless speakers and home audio systems, with a demonstration of how you can hear different music in different rooms (+25); and a trailer for the next Spider-Man sequel (+20.53).

AXE Peace cologne led off the teens (+19.68 percent), possibly boosted by the fact that males and teens were more strongly influenced by the commercials than other demographic groups (see below). Alex and Ani bangles (+19.41 percent), the Radio Shack '80s makeover (+16.64), Priceline (+15.6), Hyundai Elantra (+13.7), Honda (+13.62), the Captain America movie trailer (+13.12), and Subway (+12.16) filled out the third tier.

Some of the most hyped spots wound up in single digits: both combatants in the Greek yogurt wars (Oikos, +7.23 percent and Chobani, +4.74), both crowd-sourced Doritos commercials (+9.6), GoDaddy's first commercials by an actual advertising agency (including the spray-tan one whose punchline most people didn't get [+3.32]), and the publicity-seeking, supposedly outrageous SodaStream (+2.73) and Wonderful Pistachios (+2.28) spots.

Four commercials – for Bank of America, Volkswagen (where engineers grow wings when a VW turns 100,000 miles), Sprint and P&G's Swiffle – hovered around the zero mark, which means they might as well have not run.

...and losers

But at least that's better than doing more harm than good by persuading viewers not to buy the brand, which eight commercials did.

These include the biracial-family Cheerios commercial, the butt of an MSNBC-manufactured political correctness controversy (-3 percent), the incomprehensible GoldieBlox commercial for girls' toys which won an Intuit contest among small businesses (-5.73), the CarMax slow-clap spot (-7.29). But those are only the small losers.

The three biggest losers were all for automotive brands. Chrysler's two-minute extravaganza, in which Bob Dylan praised the virtues of American products, including cars made by the Italian-owned auto manufacturer was one (-20.06 percent). The Chevrolet Silverado truck spot with the stud bull (-23.30) was another. But the biggest loser was the Jaguar spot, which marshaled the talents of well-known British actors, all to produce a -31.66 percent. Never have so many, etc.

Some viewers are easier to influence than others

The study also correlated the swings in purchase likelihood with demographic data and found that some consumers are more easily persuadable than others.

  • Viewers under 18, for example, were twice as easily influenced to buy (37.1 perecent) as the next group (55-64, 18.5 percent); 45-54-year-olds were the least persuadable (8.1 percent).
  • Men were slightly more likely to be influenced by the commercials (9.95 percent) than women (8.78).
  • People who earn more money are less likely to be persuaded to spend it on things they see advertised on the Super Bowl. In households with $50,000 or less annual income, the commercials increased likelihood to buy by 10.5 percent; in $50,000-100,000-a year households, by 9 percent, a tiny dropoff. But when household income's $100,000-150,000 a year, only 1.1 percent of respondents reported any influence. $150,000+ households were only slightly more persuadable (1.4 percent).

If you're like mnosrt advertisers, you're probably not planning to sink four or five milion dollars into a :30 on next year's Super Bowl. But whatever your budget and wherever your commercials run, you should make extra sure they work for your brand and not against it.

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