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Super Bowl ads: At $4 million each & only 20% success, what is the deal?

When the Super Bowl comes around each year the conversation around the water cooler almost always turns to the Super Bowl commercial ads. What is the appeal for the businesses or companies advertising at $4 million dollars a pop for a mere 30 seconds? A new study put out by research firm Communicus says1-in-5 Super Bowl ads sells stuff, meaning 80% don't. What is the appeal then? Is it clout, or just the massive write-off at tax time? Whatever the reason, the fact that companies are willing to take such a terrible business risk with only 20% of ads being successful for the company or product being sold is to the delight of many fans of football and the Super Bowl.

Are Super Bowl ads worth it?
Getty Images

Apparently, Communicus reached its Super Bowl conclusions through interviews with more than 1,000 consumers before and after they were exposed to the ads in the 2012 and 2013 games. They "were asked to rate 74 brands on preference, usage and planned future purchase intentions," according to communicus.com. The study group never knew they were doing a study for Super Bowl ads and they didn't know they would be recontacted. Then Communicus followed up within a certain time-frame to measure the effectiveness of the ads using brand-masked tactics to see if the ads were effective.

According to adage.com,

“CEO Jeri Smith said it takes its first read on a typical ad four weeks after it starts running to allow for multiple exposures. She said one thing that she suspects hurts Super Bowl ads is that many of them don't air regularly after the game and 'we find that one ad exposure often isn't enough to make anything happen.'"

Smith seems to think another factor that may be hindering the sales includes the entertainment factor. It appears the advertisers may be overdoing it when it comes to creativity to gain ratings and attention from sources such as USA Today instead of highlighting the product effectively. So, in the long run will the product be more successful because of a trickle down advertising effect? Can popularity of a Super Bowl ad pay for itself over time? Does the company or product have to be successful prior to the $4 million investment? Perhaps there's more than meets the eye when it comes to getting noticed in a Super Bowl ad.

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