By now you’ve probably seen all of the big movie trailers that ran during the Super Bowl, either by suffering through them during the game or checking them out online. But chances are these trailers won’t have that much of an impact on whether you choose to spend $10 on the advertised movie once it hits theatres.
Conventional wisdom is that spending money on a big, flashy Super Bowl ad is smart. You produce a 3-D commercial spectacular with SoBe Life Water, requiring special glasses to appreciate its awesomeness, and when Monsters vs. Aliens hits theatres in eight weeks, people will supposedly remember the Super Bowl trailer and flock to theatres. Unfortunately, that’s not usually how it works.
University of British Columbia professor Charles Weinberg, who’s actually studied the relationship between Super Bowl movie ads and opening weekend box-office revenues, found that trailers shown during the big game do increase opening weekend grosses, but they do so because such commercials convince more theatres to show the film. They don’t have any effect on moviegoers’s willingness to see the movies advertised.
Also, history shows that successful Super Bowl trailers do not necessarily presage wins at the box office. After all, following last year’s big game, everyone was buzzing about New Line Cinema’s trailer for the Will Ferrell starrer Semi-Pro, but when the film was released at the end of February it made a disappointing $15 million before limping to a $33.5 million total domestic gross.
Last year’s game also featured ads for Wall-E and Iron Man, but those films probably would have done well whether their trailers debuted during the Super Bowl or not. Ditto for the big tentpoles whose trailers aired this year: Monsters vs. Aliens; Up (Pixar’s never had a flop); Paramount’s boy-friendly trifecta of Star Trek, Transformers and G.I Joe; and Universal’s Land of the Lost and Fast & Furious.
And, more importantly, when you think about how much a Super Bowl ad cost this year ($3 million for a 30 second spot), couldn’t that money have been better spent elsewhere?
Warner Bros. hasn’t paid for a Super Bowl spot for the past three years (last year’s Semi-Pro commercial was bought by New Line Cinema when it was still a separate division), which means there was no Dark Knight ad last year, but it’s still the second highest-grossing movie of all time. We don’t doubt that Warner Bros.’s upcoming films like Watchmen and Terminator Salvation will do equally brisk—if not quite as impressive—business as the box office.
Fox similarly didn’t shell out for a spot this year, last year or the year before. And while Fox’s 2008 was embarrassing, in 2007 the studio did impressive business with The Simpsons Movie, Live Free or Die Hard and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, none of which were advertised during the Super Bowl. This summer, Fox seems poised to make a comeback with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Night at the Museum 2 and Ice Age: Dawn of the DInosaurs, and will do so without spending a dime on a Super Bowl spot.