Wasteful Super Bowl Advertising

Super Bowl Advertising – Just Entertainment

By Tom Dougherty

Superbowl-47The Super Bowl is no longer merely the sporting event it used to be. It has gradually, over the years, and especially the four decades of its existence, become the definitive cultural event of our age, at least in this country, the United States.

This event has got so thoroughly hyped over these decades, that anticipation, not only of the actual game, but anticipation of the pre-game show, the half-time show and the advertising have begun to claim as much interest as the actual sporting event itself.

Let us first look at the sporting event itself, the NFL finals. Unlike baseball and basketball, the other premier American sports, the NFL’s championship is not the result of seven matches. It is a single game. The teams playing may have played before, and one might have won handily in an earlier skirmish, but this may have no bearing on the outcome on this stage.

There are few games where cotangential factors play a greater role, where actual skill can be trumped by sheer psychological pressure, injuries, wind, moisture, temperature, familiarity with the stadium, the relatively unpredictable bounce and wobbles of the peculiarly shaped ball, the psychological states of players, all can conspire to determine the winner.

And yet this single event, perhaps because it is only a single event, has become, not only the premier sporting event of this country, it has become the premier media event in the country, shown in hundreds of countries. It is a unique showcase of American popular culture. In addition, this pre-eminence has given the event a glow that makes players, coaches, performers, advertisers, agencies, and organizers feel more self-important that the event actually deserves. Just think of it, this single event accounts for almost $9 billion of spending.

A Crowded Market

With each Super Bowl, however, we can be sure that most of it did not fulfill the purpose for which companies were paying heavily for it: increasing market-share for their respective products. So many of them are funny, some are even hilarious, but most of them were so busy entertaining that they forgot to identify their brand properly. What was most shocking was that almost all of them failed to provide any reason to switch from a competitive brand. That isn’t funny.

Is It All About Business?

It’s difficult to get over the feeling that Super Bowl advertising is less about business than an ego trip for the advertising people and their ad agencies. Each seems to address, not the prospect, but their peers and competitors in the advertising industry to get some bragging time within the community.

Wasteful Super Bowl AdvertisingThat depressing notion was followed by and even more horrifying thought – that the people who made and approved these commercials were so jaded in a culture of entertainment that they had forgotten the purpose of advertising investments. They were blindly developing and producing advertising that was draining their financial resources so wantonly, as though they were keeping the faucet running.

The companies and agencies that developed and approved all this Super Bowl advertising have lost sight of the purpose for which they are making, and are being allowed to make, these enormous investments in advertising. Business is the most accountable function in our world today. There are shareholders who have made investments in these companies based on the expectation that these companies will accomplish better results than their competitors with lower investments will.

Accountability? Wasteful Super Bowl Advertising

The Boards of Directors are accountable to their shareholders to ensure that the management they select to run these companies will be responsible and accountable. Indeed, this is precisely why the compensation of top management has itself been sharply increasing, because these top managements are expected to deliver significant increments in profits on a sustainable basis, year in and year out, year after year.

Wasteful Super Bowl AdvertisingIn the midst of all this accountability, how can these advertisers spend so much so irresponsibly? How can they even consider airing commercials that cannot be reasonably expected to affect conversions of their competitors’ customers to their own brands? How can they even imagine paying such stratospheric rates demanded by this peak media event of the year?

Could it be that the advertising profession, and it practitioners, don’t really understand the relationship of their function to the bottom lines of their respective companies? We have long feared this, but the advertising at this Super Bowl has demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that there is little if any consideration of accountability going into the decision-making processes that led to the selection of these commercials, and even less to the approval of these media rates for airing them. Our advertising industry is still infatuated with the appearance of cleverness in advertising.


This may sound like a full condemnation of today’s competitive market scape, and it is. However, it is also a clarion cry that sings of opportunity to those who can place ego well behind effectiveness and decide to put share-stealing practices into their advertising strategy. (Read how to fiind important emotional messages for your advertising here)

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