Super Bowl Redux

Super Bowl 2008 set records – most of them off the field. $ 2.7 million for 30 seconds of air time was one; (estimated) “viewership” of 97.5 million was another.

Add production costs and that most advertisers ran more than one 30 second spot and this starts to involve real money. These costs don’t include extras such as “business travel” by senior management to the game, presumably to see how the commercials look on the large high definition monitors in their sky boxes.

Undoubtedly the Super Bowl delivers the largest mass audience of any domestic medium. Viewers are not restricted to youth, men, or even sports fans. For this event at least, advertisers can reach most of their market. Actually, none of the Super Bowl advertisers from Audi to GoDaddy to Budweiser to eTrade to Garmin sells to so broad a market. As with all mass media, marketers have to buy more exposure than they can use in an attempt to cover a market.

In addition, the Bowl ads have a following and life of their own. They are covered by business and news media and are replayed on sites such as YouTube. This secondary and sometimes even tertiary exposure is free.

What do they get for 3 or 5 or 10 $ million? It gets fuzzy here. For example, IAG Research ranked ads by most liked and most recalled. The implicit assumption is that better recall and higher preference for an ad lead to more effectiveness. If this means higher sales, of which they present no data, how much is a likability point worth?

The “research” seems to decline from there. Internet tracking firm ComScore asked 1139 respondents two questions:

1) Which of this year’s Super Bowl advertisers’ ads would you like to see again? (Select 3)

2) Which Super Bowl advertisers’ ads improved or damaged your impression of the brand in any way?

Notably, their research did not try to track purchase behavior.

More substantial data are available from web traffic measurement firm HitWise. It reports that of the 32 Bowl advertisers, 9 had traffic increases to their site of 25% or more compared with the previous day while 10 of the advertisers actually had decreased traffic. Comparisons with the day before the game are not the most relevant. A better comparison might have been with the final playoff game two weeks prior, but HitWise does not volunteer these data.

Of course, a visit to a web site is hardly equivalent to buying a product, especially one not sold online. Indeed most of the advertisers sell nothing online. If the Super Bowl ads were an exercise to drive web traffic, they start to look a bit pricy.

What we haven’t seen are Bowl advertisers specifying the incremental sales of these campaigns. In some cases they may not know. Their ads generally didn’t include trackable URLs, phone numbers, coupon codes, etc. An impartial observer might wonder if these advertisers did not really want their Bowl campaigns evaluated.

What the heck, those chips taste really crunchy in the Sky Box.