2014’s $4 Million Bargains: Super Bowl Ads

Last season’s Super Bowl was an intense affair.  We had the privilege of watching charismatic legend Ray Lewis lead his team to a victory that would give him his second Super Bowl and be the last game of his extremely illustrious career. I consider this Sunday’s game to have the potential to be even more exciting. We are going to be watching an unbelievable matchup of old and new. Peyton Manning, who many are calling the greatest quarterback of all time, will continue to lead an incredible offense. For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson will be leading the charge. He is one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the league and has looked fantastic thus far in his young career. Lining up behind Wilson is one of the most talented and exciting running backs playing the game today; Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch.

On the defensive side of the ball, again we will see the duality of the league in the form of old and new at the position of cornerback. Anyone and their neighbor can say what they want about Richard Sherman’s behavior, howling at poor Erin Andrews and such, but you can't deny that he is an elite defensive back (if not the best cornerback in the league right now). For Denver we will yet again have the pleasure of watching the record holder for most Pro-Bowl appearances by a cornerback of all time; Champ Bailey. If you aren't excited yet, it may be time to start chugging Red Bull while listening to the Rocky theme song on repeat.

I’ve always been someone who has said that when something is perfect, there is no need to try to make it better with extra frills. But in the case of the Super Bowl, I firmly believe that this glorious Sunday is one of the few times that commercial breaks actually add to the experience. Super Bowl commercials range in content from inspirational, to genuinely funny to downright stupid efforts that we laugh at anyways. In the category of “inspirational and moving” I can cite Mean Joe Green’s Coca Cola commercial, which did not actually premiere during a Super Bowl but did play during one. Another is 2002’s tribute to the September 11th attacks in which Budweiser portrayed Clydesdale horses bowing in honor of remembrance of that terrible day. Even watching it on YouTube today, I felt the urge to shout the Star Spangled Banner from my window. In terms of “genuinely funny”, I consider Reebok’s “Terrible” Terry Tate: the Office Linebacker commercials from 2003 hilarious. Finally, the silly and almost nonsensical ads are epitomized by the Budweiser commercial with the frogs. Nonetheless it was an entertaining ad and still warrants a chuckle.

This year’s ads look promising as well. Speaking for the advertising divisions of the companies that have thrown down the money this year, the commercials better be worth it. This year’s ads have cost companies $4 million for thirty seconds and $8 million for a full minute.  Anheuser-Busch InBev, the largest brewer in the world, and arguably the company that has created some of the most prolific ads in history, has purchased plenty of time, as they usually do. So far it’s looking like they have scheduled three Bud Light ads and two for Budweiser. The teaser ads that have been released confirm celebrity cameos, including Don Cheadle. Additionally, the Clydesdale theme is back along with a canine counterpart. Finally, there will be an ad for Budweiser featuring a story about a soldier returning from Afghanistan and receiving a “hero’s welcome” from his hometown and Budweiser. It promises to be an emotional tribute to America’s fighting men and women around the globe and at home.

Audi, Chevrolet, Jaguar and Hyundai have all purchased commercial time during the game as well. Jaguar is one company for which this will be their first Super Bowl ad experience. Reports claim that their ad will include Ben Kingsley and was directed by Tom Hooper. Hooper is the man who won Best Director for The King’s Speech. Kia on the other hand, has been featured in the last five Super Bowls, and their efforts this year apparently involve Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus from The Matrix. Toyota is another car company we will see represented in this year’s Super Bowl ads. This year’s Toyota commercial is for their Highlander SUV and includes Kaley Cuoco; Penny from The Big Bang Theory. Rounding out the automobile ads in this year’s game, Volkswagen has produced an ad featuring the company’s engineers with angel wings. The gag is that apparently Volkswagen engineers “get their wings” when one of their vehicles reaches 100,000 kilometers. It sounds silly but the message is there; Volkswagen makes quality machines that last.

Yogurt will make another appearance at this year’s football season finale. Dannon, the company that makes Oikos yogurt, has produced their second ad in Super Bowl history. In 2012 they released a commercial featuring John Stamos. This year, Stamos will be joined by Bob Saget and Dave Coulier in a Full House reunion. Other food products purchasing ad space this year during the big game include Doritos (Frito Lay), M&M’s (Mars), Cheerios, and a Butterfinger (Nestle) ad featuring Bart Simpson. Finally Stephen Colbert will make an appearance in a pair of ads produced by Wonderful Pistachios (Roll International) as part of an ongoing agreement with that company.

Other companies that have purchased airtime include Intuit, the tax software specialists, Paramount Pictures, in support of their new Transformers movie, GoDaddy, with another ad featuring NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, in addition to an ad about a woman creating a start-up business and finally Bank of America. The Bank of America commercial includes U2 singer, Bono, performing a new song, which is aimed at raising awareness and funds for his initiative R.E.D.; an organization active in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Other celebrity appearances in ads both rumored and confirmed include James Franco, Scarlett Johansson, David Beckham, Miley Cyrus and Will Smith.

There has been some speculation in recent years over whether or not these ads are cost effective.  Forbes published an article last year in which the author argued that the major reason for Super Bowl ads was to temporarily increase a company’s stock value and had no real impact on a company’s overall sales. This article was written this time last year by Avi Dan, a marketing specialist and regular contributor to Forbes. Though he makes an interesting point, a more recent article published earlier this week on Forbes, effectively defends the decision to purchase Super Bowl ad time. Rob Siltanen; the founder of Siltanen and Partners, wrote his defense of Super Bowl ad purchases from the perspective of an advertising executive who considers to be risk adverse.

To argue his case, Siltanen states that there have been studies which proposed that up to 50% of Super Bowl viewers watch primarily for the commercials. He also points out that there is a certain guarantee of publicity when a company advertises during the game and the impression that any company that purchases ad time during the big game is automatically considered an elite organization. Referencing his own experience and expertise, he offers the example of Skechers. Siltanen and Partners created Super Bowl ads for the shoe company in 2012 and 2013. Since then their sales have increased by over 25% and their stock price went up threefold.

There is no doubt, at $4 million this year, Super Bowl advertising time is expensive, but it is still worth it. I will compare the price of a thirty second ad during the game with the price of a similar section of time during The Big Bang Theory. According to a report on advertising prices for primetime shows in 2013 and 2014, The Big Bang Theory roughly costs companies $325,000 for a thirty second commercial. Their average viewership this season has been roughly 18 million. Dividing these numbers determines that it costs just fewer than two cents per viewer. The same equation for a thirty second Super Bowl ad, $4 million divided by for arguments sake 100 million viewers, equals four cents.

This is double what a company would pay the Big Bang Theory. One essential difference however, is the mindset of the viewer. During a commercial for the Big Bang Theory, most viewers are probably annoyed that they have to take time out from Sheldon’s hilarious awkwardness to watch a car drive down a road or somebody spray disinfectant on a couch. During the Super Bowl, fans have just watched a few minutes of the most hyped-up sporting event in the world and are eager to see what awesome example of marketing genius will entertain them next. The fact that the Super Bowl has the reputation for such amazing advertising makes it a consistently safe place for these elite companies to showcase their products, regardless of cost. Four million dollars (regardless of the costs of celebrity cameos and production) is a bargain for the fact that advertisers have one hundred million, happy, eager viewers who are excited to see commercials, if only for that one day per year.

Enjoy the game!

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