Super Bowl Ads Really Are A Terrible Investment For Brands

coca cola super bowl ad

Because I was interviewed on TV news channels about the Super Bowl commercials, I actually watched them last year.

I sometimes don’t because they are too often frustrating for me. Few, if any, are effective at selling the products they are advertising.

More importantly, the commercials the viewers like the best are typically the least effective at selling. Don’t get me wrong. I personally like to watch many of the same commercials that viewers vote as their favourites. They are funny, sexy, clever, and entertaining.

The problem is that, for the money invested (at least $3.8 million for 30 seconds of air time and millions more to produce with high-paid celebrities), they do not have what it takes to generate a significant blip in sales. Why?

Even if viewers can recall the product or brand being advertised, very few spots provided unique benefits that would give buyers good reasons to buy.

Overused clichés

In fact, so many of the Super Bowl ads are based on recycled ideas that many viewers have seen too many times before. They have cute dogs, babies, celebrities, and sexy supermodels. Yes, these do attract attention and entertain. And yes, many of us like to see them. The problem is that they are overused “me too” clichés that distract viewers from the products advertised. People remember them and forget the product.

In fact, the commercial that was overwhelmingly voted the best in the 2011 Volkswagen commercial was the Volkswagen spot that featured a kid dressed up as Darth Vader costume. Many people who vividly remember the commercial and the kid are unable to identify the company or the product being advertised. Adriana Lima was in two Super Bowl ads last year. Can you remember which ones, or do you just remember her?

Not good enough for the investment

Yes, most Super Bowl ads are entertaining and fun, but very few (if any) are likely to inspire viewers to buy the products. In some cases, it is even hard for viewers (that don’t already know the products) to figure out what they are, what they can do, and why anyone should buy them. While some may be deemed a viral success, “viral” is only good if the word-of-mouth chatter propagates the benefits of the products, helps viewers to remember the brand, and gives the audience reasons to buy the products.

Great opportunity wasted

The Super Bowl affords advertisers the opportunity to reach a huge audience at a time when audiences are fragmented over too many different media. By some estimates, last year’s Super Bowl audience was between 111.3 and 117.7 million people at different stages of the game. The tragedy is that too many viewers did not remember very much about the brands or products advertised. While many said they liked the Volkswagen commercial with the overweight dog, all viewers learn from this spot is that a new Volkswagen model can beat a hefty dog in a race. Big deal. What car cannot out-run a fat dog? I hope the companies paying the big bills for these spots want more than that.

If it doesn’t sell, it is not creative

In addition to the large audience drawn to the Super Bowl, the media becomes saturated with discussions of Super Bowl ads before, during, and after they air on TV. They get posted to YouTube, Facebook, news channels, and other social networks to multiply their effect. This gives advertisers many more opportunities to make multiple brand impressions and sell more products.

Rather than exploit this opportunity, too many “blow it” by focusing on the entertainment value of the commercials and neglecting what should be the main focus—selling the product, the stock, and everything else the company has to sell. They tend to forget that the most important part of the AIDA model (Attention, Interest, Decision, Action) is the second A—not the first. If a commercial is good at getting attention and entertaining the audience, why not take the further step of planting the right message in the brains of viewers to get them to take buying actions?

In his book Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy quotes another agency that claimed, “if it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” Too bad David Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves, Bill Bernbach, and Shirley Polykoff are still not with us. If they were, Super Bowl commercials would not only be entertaining, they would also greatly increase sales.

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