Is advertising on the Super Bowl worth it?

vince-lombardi-trophy-for-super-bowl-xlii2Repeat after me and say it slowly…$3 Million for a 30-second commercial. Now say it again. $3 Million for a 30-second commercial. Oops, time is up. That’ll be $3 Million, please. How could one 30-second TV spot on the forthcoming Super Bowl possibly be worth $3 Million? 

But I think it is (depending)….Here’s why.

I grew up in the communications industry in the 70s and 80s at “Super Bowl U”, BBDO/New York, where the creative egos, and commensurate talent, ran wild. BBDO consistently led major agencies with the largest # of client spots in the Super Bowl, with Pepsi always at the top of the list. Ironically, Pepsi is no longer a Super Bowl advertiser, nor is the Pepsi brand a BBDO account any longer –perhaps there’s a correlation. I felt then that advertising in the Super Bowl was a colossal waste of money. The program ratings didn’t justify the expenditure, and the buys for the most part were ego driven. To give credit, it was a great way to “kick off” an exciting new campaign and for companies with money to burn (not an issue in today’s economy), it had some value. But still I felt it was way overpriced relative to value received since there was plenty of mega-rated programming.

So how could I say in today’s awful economy that advertising in the Super Bowl at $3MM a throw is money well-spent. I believe so because the world has changed in two dramatic ways:

1. There is no comparable way to reach a mass audience.

The gap between Super Bowl ratings and ratings in other “big event” and ongoing prime time programming has widened. The Super Bowl  is indeed the “Super Bowl” of  TV viewing, and nothing comes close.

There were far more ways to reach large audiences years ago. Media fragmentation of today yields smaller, more defined audiences but alas for those marketers who truly seek “mass”, nothing beats the Super Bowl.

2. It’s not just about running the spots on game-day.

For a TV advertiser, the party actually begins the week before and lasts for days after the actual event. The game day spot is merely the conduit to the attendant publicity, chatter, and hopefully, and most importantly, YouTube views subsequent to the event. Back in the 80s there was obviously no YouTube and, while there was some publicity, the amount of buzz was far less.

What this means is that more than ever IF you are going to be a Super Bowl advertiser, then the spot needs to be great—not just good. Because there’s nothing worse than spending $3 Million and then getting slammed on Monday for airing a lame piece of creative. And your spot needs to be more than merely effective. To justify the hype, it needs to be a “mini-film” that others will want to view again and again. Therefore talking babies, animals, big production, celebrity talent, etc. should be part of the plan. Can’t afford a big spot. Don’t play.

But  if you hit creative pay-dirt and create a spot that’s a big as the Super Bowl itself, and really want the bang of reaching the widest possible audience then $3 Million may be a price worth paying.

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