Super Bowl Advertising: Is it Worth the Cost?

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As the 2013 Super Bowl reminds us, sports, and football in particular, are big money in America. According to Nielsen, 111.3 million Americans watched the Super Bowl in 2012. The number was down slightly this year with 108 million Americans glued to their screens during the big game. This is a lot of eyeballs and, not surprisingly, networks charge companies big money to roll out commercials during the game. This year a 30 second advertisement hovered right under 4 million dollars.

The question is, “Is it worth the money for corporations to shell out millions during the big game?” Chevrolet decided the answer to this question was “no.” In May, the car maker decided to opt out of Super Bowl advertising, citing the ever-increasing cost of ads. This is despite the fact that 91% of folks who planned on watching the game were looking forward to the commercials. The company made a similar decision and passed on an opportunity to have the new Corvette Stingray share the stage with Beyonce during the half-time show. While the Super Bowl may lead to increased sales for musicians featured in advertising and spotlighted during half-time, Chevy is not convinced that the ads convince people to buy products with large price tags.

Despite Chevy’s pull out, there are plenty of companies chomping at the bit to get their thirty seconds of fame. To be sure, commercials that are a big hit (or a colossal failure) get discussed and replayed thousands of times online. But is it worth it? This is a difficult question to answer because there is so much more to a Super Bowl ad than the ad itself. Take, for example, companies that shell out big money in hopes of swaying consumers and find their crafted messages drowned out in other controversy. This year, Soda Stream, found itself at the center of controversy – not for its claims that the product is the environmental solution to soda cans and bottles, but for its alleged labor practices in its plant outside of Jerusalem. Then , there was Oreo, which showed that ingenuity can win big and cost very little. The on the fly tweet, “you can still dunk in the dark,” referencing the blackout during the third quarter of the game, was not only retweeted thousands of times, but also widely discussed in news outlets the next day.

Of course, having your commercial banned from the Super Bowl can be just as beneficial as actually paying for an ad to air. MoveOn.org’s advertisement “Child’s Play,” which commented on deficit of George W. Bush era reached millions when it was banned from the Super Bowl. Arguably, this is a part of some groups’ media strategy. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), for example, is known for its over-the-top ads, which are routinely banned from the Super Bowl – and occasionally covered for free by news media. PETA even has a page dedicated to its rejected ads. While there is much that is beyond a company’s control when it comes to advertising in the Super Bowl. One has to wonder if the benefits of 30 seconds in the Super Bowl truly outweigh the costs. Image

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About Double take Sociology

I am a Professor of Sociology, a Research Associate in the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, and an Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Community Engagement in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. I research (and write about) social movements, mass media and politics. To find links to my research, visit www.DeanaRohlinger.com.
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