Justifying a Super Bowl Media Buy


Jonathan Salem Baskin’s take on the Super Bowl is that it’s the “dumbest night for brands.” His opinion mirrors a discussion I have with colleagues annually, but I was quite surprised to see his opinion turn up in Ad Age. Baskin backs up his assertion with “thumbnail accounting” that shows advertisers for the big game tend to perform at or below average for their categories. Super Bowl or Bust? For the overwhelming majority of cases, I think Baskin is absolutely right. In an era of advertising where every dollar is under heavy scrutiny — and big data, analytics and return on investment (ROI) continue to dominate buzzword bingo cards — how does any brand justify a spend that goes well beyond the price of the spot? If you believe that effective advertising sells product (and therefore pays for itself), which Baskin and I do, then you can’t label the vast majority of Super Bowl advertising as effective. To illustrate the point, consider the following scenario: CBS just announced that it sold out the Super Bowl with 30-second spots commanding an average of $3.8 million, and Anheuser-Busch InBev will advertise Bud Light again this year. In order to just break even (i.e., an ROI of zero), it will have to generate an incremental $3.8 million in profits (not sales). And that’s if it only runs one ad, which it probably won’t. Who’s doing the math over there? The federal government? The Most Expensive Ads Have a Place However, I do think that Super Bowl advertising can be effective when launching new products. There isn’t another platform that comes close to delivering an audience of this size (projected to be 111 million people) that actually tunes in for the commercials. Since I picked on Anheuser-Busch InBev earlier, let me also give them their due credit. Bud Light Platinum was unveiled during last year’s big game and has been considered a huge success, even being hailed as the strongest new-product launch in the alcohol industry in seven years. Budweiser is hoping to replicate those results this year for its new line extension, Black Crown. Although, even with the success of Bud Light Platinum and even if Black Crown follows suit, I can’t help but point out that what’s so unfortunate for Anheuser-Busch is that the Super Bowl ads run after people have shopped for their parties. I have to wonder if that $3.8 million per spot might be better spent in the weeks leading up to one of the biggest beer drinking events of the year. Like Any Game, It Goes Back to Strategy Despite an expense that makes headlines every year, brands will continue to advertise in the Super Bowl for any number of reasons. There’s the prestige of being on the grandest stage in advertising. The amount of social buzz generated might be attractive. Perhaps awareness is the only thing that matters to the brand. It could simply be an ego thing. The bottom line is that, unless you’re launching a new product, the Super Bowl is an ROI bust.

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Dan Mayer
Dan Mayer

Since joining Empower seven years ago, Dan has helped many leading brand marketers with new product development, sales forecasting, media effectiveness research and website analytics. Dan’s career started at Nielsen BASES where he designed, managed, analyzed and presented a wide variety of custom research in support of new CPG products.