The Super Bowl shows us why advertisers should be holding themselves to a higher level throughout the year, argues Rowenna Prest, chief strategy officer at advertising services firm Joint.
The Super Bowl is one of the most watched sporting events in the world and by far the biggest TV moment in the US. According to Nielsen Media Research, 115.1 million people tuned in to watch it in 2023, making it the most watched Super Bowl to date.
But unlike the world’s most-watched sporting event (UEFA Champions League final), the Super Bowl is so much more than just the NFL final. The Super Bowl is really a mass entertainment entity driven in part by the game, but also by the halftime show and the advertisements, all of which generate those all important digital and in person “water cooler” moments.
In fact, nearly as many adults surveyed by Kantar in 2023 claimed they intended to watch primarily for the ads (24 per cent) as those who claimed they primarily watched for the sport (29 per cent).
Decline in broadcast
This claimed keenness to watch TV ads is unsurprisingly music to the ad industry’s ears. The decline of broadcast TV in the face of digitisation, fragmentation and digital media competition has been a dark cloud that’s hung over the industry for years. There’s a palpable loss of confidence in, and respect of, the media. Which in the US is predicted to only attract 31 per cent of media spend vs. digital in 2024.
Yet, here is an event that showcases the power of the channel not just in its own right, but also how it can supercharge digital channels too.
Volkswagen’s The Force was shared over 50m times, organically i.e. for free. And this means marketeers are willing to spend big, confident that if they get it right, their return on investment will be very worthwhile. A 30 second spot costs almost $7m (£5.5m) and the production costs will also likely be high given their quality and who stars in them. Having said that, after the General Motors-Netflix ad starring Will Ferrell aired, General Motors’ stock rose by nearly 5 per cent and the featured GM cars received a 50 per cent increase in traffic on Cars.com.
Super Bowl excitement
Yet the excitement and focus on one event in the year is pretty sad – the UK equivalent is Christmas advertising, which is equally troublesome.
If the Super Bowl proves anything, it’s that if done right, TV advertising still has the power to engage people to such an extent that they feel more predisposed to a brand and its product service, ultimately adding incremental commercial value to businesses.
This isn’t a surprise to the industry. Thanks to the work of Nobel Prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman we know that even the most seemingly rational people make decisions using their heart, then post rationalise with their head.
The implication for advertising is you have to make people feel something if you want them to do something. And, thanks to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, this theory is further backed up by hundreds of case studies from brands across different categories which prove the cold, hard return on investment of taking an approach which elicits emotion.
Advertisers must be better
However, the territory of feeling is still a murky one. “Emotion” is a fat word. All too often advertisers can be a bit lazy, with a lack of valuable consumer-understanding leading to out of touch start-points. And ultimately idealised slice of life campaigns, which simply serve as wallpaper in a largely missable, slightly annoying ad break. This simply isn’t good enough.
The best Super Bowl or Christmas ads share the necessary ingredients of creative excellence: a truly meaningful startpoint built from really understanding people and culture and a clear, credible role for the brand. It sounds simple, but in truth it’s extremely difficult to get to.
However, just because it’s difficult, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be the standard the advertising industry needs to hold itself to all year round. The creative ambition and expectation has to be high from both the client and the agency. And this doesn’t simply mean Super Bowl budgets. The biggest contributor other than talent is time. The time to really listen to what’s happening in the lives of our consumers, the time to understand (honestly) what role a brand can play, the time for the creatives to get past first thoughts and build ideas that truly surprise and delight.
So, while I look forward to watching the Super Bowl ads as much as the 24 per cent, or 27.6 million people, who claimed they did too, it does make me a tad sad about the state of advertising: advertisers should be holding themselves to higher standards throughout the year.