Super Bowl ad spending is greater than ever – the risk

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

20 January 2011

There are too many advertisers

The Super Bowl is just around the corner and it brings this year’s new crop of commercials. (Sigh…). I was reading in Brandweek that heralded the 27% rise in Super Bowl ad spending and time since 2001. Think about that for a moment. For every 60 seconds of ads in the Super Bowl in 2001, we are now seeing about 77 seconds. Over the course of a three-hour game, the added time is nearly 50 minutes and the costs for each 30-second spot have gone up more than 35% since 2001. In digestible numbers, Super Bowl ad spending costs in excess of $100,000 a second.

While this is certainly great news for those hauling in the Super Bowl ad spending revenues like the media buyers and the networks, it is not good news for the advertisers. Super Bowl ads have morphed into an expensive game of one-upsmanship. The goals for most Super Bowl ad spending are to be funnier, more in your face, and more original than all of the other ads. I can hear a creative agency in their brainstorming session: “Okay everyone, we need to make this ad more funny than what we did last year. Get to work.”

“The more advertising space is sold in the Super Bowl, the more diluted each advertisers message becomes.”


super bowl ad spendingThis meeting is repeated for each advertiser in the Super Bowl and, at the end of it, we have a series of 30-second skits where the product advertised is, at best, nothing more than a prop with many ads only showing the brand at the very end of the commercial. They are usually sophomoric, easily forgotten snippets of entertainment only.

But I am sure you have heard all that before.

What is really troubling to me is that, with the added advertising time and increased Super Bowl ad spending, advertisers are turning a deaf ear to one of the fundamental truths in advertising: Clarity. This has nothing to do with clarity of message. While that is a problem as well, I’m speaking of clarity of the medium.

What is clarity of the medium? It is the clarity of a message in the context of how it is presented. Let’s assume for a moment (and it is a big assumption) that each and every commercial in the Super Bowl is absolutely clear, meaningful and resonates with the target audience. Even so, advertisers would still suffer from lack of clarity.

Clarity of the medium is an advertiser’s ability to stand out and break through the clutter of all the other messages that are being seen, heard, and felt by the target audience. It is not enough to stand out. You must stand out in a crowd of others trying to stand out. This is one of the reasons why advertisers and their agencies have moved to entertainment – they want to stand out in the crowd.

But what they are not considering are the sheer numbers of advertising messages. With more and more time being dedicated to advertising, an advertiser’s message gets lost. If the advertising crowd gets bigger, it becomes more and more difficult to stand out. The more advertising space is sold in the Super Bowl, the more diluted each advertisers message becomes.

Economic laws predict that as a resource becomes less scarce, the value of that resource should increase. So logically that would mean the more advertising space sold – and more Super Bowl ad spending – the more the value of that space decreases. The funny thing about this that the value of the Super Bowl advertising space has actually decreased but the cost for that space has not. Having almost an hour of additional commercials in the Super Bowl since 2001 has greatly reduced an advertiser’s ability to stand out and it is worrying that they haven’t seen it, judging by how many jump on board.

I think the fundamental problem is that most advertisers and their agencies are really at a loss as to what to do in many cases. Ad agencies want to protect their accounts and the revenue they receive from those accounts both in terms of fees and commissions on ad placements and advertisers are looking for ways to get their message out. Those fascinated with social media are searching for how their messages can go viral.  For some marketers, CEOs, and other executives having an ad in the Super Bowl means that they have made it. I think that this was the case with Buffalo Wild Wings last year, which incidentally, is the only ad I can remember now from last year.

There are better ways to spend more than $100,000 a second in order to get your target audiences attention. And it is a sad state of advertising when few see it.

See more posts in the following related categories: Advertising Branding Budweiser CHRYSLER


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