The numbers, crunched by consultant Kantar Media, are almost mind-boggling:
• Over the past 10 years, Super Bowl advertisers have spent $1.7 billion on TV ads.
• Advertisers spent $228 million on the game last year.
• That sum, about what is expected to be spent this year, will account for about 25 percent of the $1 billion NBC paid for rights to air the game.
How advertising has become so integral to the Super Bowl is about more than the 110 million or so people who watch the game. A study recently completed by BIGinsight for the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association found that 25 percent of viewers watch solely for the commercials. Ann Bastianelli, senior lecturer of marketing at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, says that number is even higher when considering that 58 percent of women tune in solely for the commercials.
The game provides an unparalleled opportunity for advertisers, says Bastianelli, when considering that women’s opinions account for upward of 70 percent of “important family purchasing decisions.”
The formula certainly seems to be working for Volkswagen. Sharethrough, a social video advertising platform and distribution network, tracked commercials that aired during last year’s Super Bowl through the end of 2011 and identified which categories, and which individual commercials, were shared the most often through social media.
The hands-down winner of the social media game was VW’s “The Force,” which featured a young boy dressed up like Darth Vader. Sharethrough calculated the ad had 45.2 million total views and 4.6 million engagements -- the number of times the commercial was mentioned on social media sites. “The Force” dwarfed others in terms of total views and engagements. Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit,” featuring Eminem, came in second at 13.4 million total views, but had only 357,735 total engagements.
“We were able to get about $100 million of earned media around that one simple television execution,” said VW’s general manager of brand marketing, Brian Thomas. He sees the nearly 50 million YouTube views to date as extra advertising that didn’t cost the company a dime.
This year’s VW ad, “The Bark Side,” features dogs joining in the chorus of a familiar theme song, building upon last year’s ad. The teaser already has more than 10 million views, more than any commercial from last year’s Super Bowl, with the exclusion of “The Force” and Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit.”
Honda released a teaser for its Ferris Bueller-style commercial on Friday without revealing who was behind the ad campaign and received more than 4 million page views through Monday. Honda released an extended version of the commercial on Monday and hit more than 4.4 million page views by Tuesday night.
“Ferris Bueller is beyond the typical commercial we’re used to seeing,” says Sharethrough's director of marketing, Chris Schreiber. “They’re putting out trailers and building interest by bread-crumbing the content.”
Some experts question whether an advertisement’s success should be gauged based on social media impressions. This year’s Brand Keys Super Bowl Engagement Survey, which measures to what degree brand values are affected by advertising during the Super Bowl, found Volkswagen and Honda to be unaffected, not coming out as a winner or a loser in the Super Bowl advertising game. That’s tough news when commercials cost an average of $3.5 million for 30 seconds.
“What we’re doing is pointing out the massive difference between advertising entertainment and brand engagement,” says Robert Passikoff, founder of Brand Keys.
Passikoff says he worries that the trend toward entertainment has resulted in “cute” commercials, but consumers don’t necessarily remember what company produced the commercial.
“More entertaining will get more attention, but virtually every single advertiser in the Super Bowl is already known, so awareness is not the objective,” he says.
Passikoff isn’t sold on teasing commercials, either.
“If you were worried you weren’t getting enough attention in the Super Bowl, maybe there’s something wrong with your advertising,” he says.
“[The Super Bowl] has become a multiweek public relations and social media campaign with the broadcast as a centerpiece,” he says. “Super Bowl [advertising] is about conversation -- conversation about your brand.”
Companies have more opportunities than ever to buy Super Bowl time. According to Kantar Media, the number of advertisements during the game has jumped from 74 in 2002 to 96 in 2011. Nearly 10 minutes of commercials have been added to the game, pumping tens of millions more dollars into the networks each year, which continue to pay more and more with each new NFL broadcast contract.