Let’s be honest. Super Bowl ads just aren’t that super anymore. They used to be one of the few opportunities for brands to reach tens of millions of viewers at once and become a topic of water cooler conversations everywhere. 1994 was the first year a 30-second spot in the Super Bowl hit a price tag of over one million dollars. The estimated viewership at that time was around 90 million people. By 1999 that price had doubled for an audience of 84 million, and by 2010 it was over three million for an audience of around 106 million. Today, a 30-second spot runs over five million dollars, yet television ratings have been on a steady decline since their peak in 2015. While the cost has continued to increase, the value has started to decline and many big brands are bailing. Here are five possible reasons why:
We live in an always on, always connected world where we are all constantly bombarded with content and conversations. If you’re reading this blog, for example, let me just put that into context for you. In 1999, there were a mere 23 blogs on the internet. Not 23 million—23! By 2006 there were over 50 million blogs and today there are over 2 million blog posts every day. Now add in all of the social media platforms, podcasts, streaming services, etc. and our ability to access all of that from our smart devices.
Super Bowl ads used to be like throwing a huge boulder into calm waters where brands could make big splashes and get all eyes from a captive audience on them. Now, it’s still a huge boulder (a 5-million-dollar one) but today it’s more like throwing it into rough seas. There’s still a splash, but it quickly gets drowned out.
We live in a 24-hour news cycle society where even the most mind-blowing event or story can only hold our collective attention for a short period of time. What was the topic of discussion a week ago? Three days ago? This morning? What chance does one 30-second ad have to cut through the clutter and make a lasting impression worth the price of admission? Not to mention our behavioral ADD. Right now, you’re probably reading this on your phone, ignoring everything and everyone around you. That’s probably not unlike your experience during the Super Bowl. You might have been at a party or a bar, with friends and multiple screens, subject to countless distractions. In 1999, no one was checking Instagram to see how many likes their photo of nachos had while those coveted commercials were on.
There’s just no such thing as “undivided attention” anymore and isn’t that why you’re buying a Super Bowl ad in the first place?
Twenty years ago, if a brand decided to pony up for a Super Bowl spot, they were all-in on 30-seconds of something exceptionally creative that would get people talking. Now, brands realize that the actual live airing is just one campaign component in the bigger picture. Ads are released weeks prior to the actual game. Microsites and social campaigns surround and support the primary spot. And, increasingly, the entire purpose of the actual 30-second spot is to drive traffic to an external channel for more content. More and more, brand’s have employed this tactic as a way of combating the ADD of consumers and squeezing as much value as they can out of the Super Bowl spotlight by creating peripheral content and campaigns. While this may help brands get the value out of their investment, it certainly waters down the impact Super Bowl commercial breaks used to have. It’s becoming rarer that brands create a singular moment that we all experience together during the actual game.
Big Boi may have been the halftime entertainment, but Big ROI is what keeps brands coming back for more. Digital marketing has made advertising so data-driven that advertisers expect an exact measurement of the return on their investment, and data supported insights on how to optimize their efforts moving forward. Analytical insights have become almost as valuable to brands as actual impact. It’s much more difficult to nail down the exact impact of a traditional broadcast spot or target your exact audience. This is one more reason why we’ve started seeing Super Bowl ads leveraged as just one cog in the marketing machine surrounding the event.
Speaking of Big Boi, when he rolled up to the halftime show in a #Cadillac, guess what car brand was lighting up on Twitter? I wonder how the big Super Bowl car sponsors like Toyota, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz felt about that? This is what I call the Remora effect. A Remora is a fish that attaches itself to a shark and lets the shark carry it around doing all the work while it feeds off of the scraps left over from what the shark eats. They’re often referred to as the “sharksucker” fish. Social media has given brands (that are not paying huge amounts for air time) the opportunity to actually take over the consumer conversation. Oreo famously took advantage of this during the 2013 Super Bowl blackout. That is scary to the “shark” brands of the world paying gobs of money to be in the big game. Even Bud Light, one of the primary sponsors of the Super Bowl gave an opening to competitors Miller Lite and Coors Light with its campaign about not using corn syrup in its recipe. The National Corn Growers Association jumped all over that, taking to social media to voice their disappointment in Bud Light and giving thanks to Miller and Coors. Videos of corn farmers pouring Bud Light down the drain even showed up on social media. Noticeably absent (again), was Apple, the brand that started the “Super Bowl commercial” phenomenon with “1984.” Funny enough, that commercial only aired once on national television and is still talked about today because of the impact it had on a captive audience.
The bottom line is, the Super Bowl is still one of the most watched and most talked about events every year and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, but the game has definitely changed—at least off the field—and unless you’re willing to play that game too, the worth of a one-time Super Bowl ad simply cannot hold its value over time.