Do Super Bowl Commercials Work?

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Super Bowl


With a 30 second Super Bowl spot costing upwards of $4 million, the question remains: is it worth it? At some point, the cost of the commercial has to outweigh the financial benefits, and having a Super Bowl commercial is only for company bragging rights. Maybe we’ve already hit that turning point – after all, how many commercials did we see from car, beer, and soda companies?

Super Bowl commercials bring up a larger point, one that involves the “free” marketing of social media. During last year’s Super Bowl blackout, Oreo’s stole the show with a simple tweet that cost them relatively nothing. That represents the great equalizer that is Twitter – going viral costs nothing. It’s precisely because it’s free that companies have to stand out creatively on the platform.

Two advertising campaigns that took place outside of the traditional Super Bowl advertising slots stood out. This Newcastle ad, featuring actress Anna Kendrick, was about not being able to afford a Super Bowl slot. Yet it was more clever and funny than many of the ads that ran during the Super Bowl, and most importantly, much cheaper. Would the impact of that commercial have been greater had it been shown during the game, rather than disseminated through social media channels? Perhaps. But would it have been worth $4 million?

J.C. Penney’s took a similar “viral” route, but with a confused reaction. Their experiment showed that while Twitter is free, confusing tweets can backfire. Their angle was that they were tweeting with mittens on, which created a set of jumbled tweets. But many didn’t understand the ploy, instead asking if they were drunk (note: you never want potential customers to think that you’re advertisement is created by drunks). Perhaps J.C. Penney’s would have been better served going the safe, traditional route. Clever social media campaigns aren’t for all companies, just like paying $4 million for 30 seconds of air time isn’t for everyone.

The big question – does it work – still remains. Then again, Super Bowl commercials have long ceased being commercials, and more about flexing production value. Are companies better served spending that budget in other areas leading up to the Super Bowl, and what are the other alternatives? A great tweet, or YouTube video shared on Facebook surely cannot outweigh being in the Super Bowl, can it? The Oreo’s tweet from last year remains the gold standard of viral Super Bowl marketing, so it can be done. It takes a combination of timing and creativity as opposed to months of market research and preparation. But Twitter success isn’t measured in price, but retweets and activity. And that doesn’t cost a thing, much less $4 million.


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