The Enduring Appeal of Super Bowl Advertising... Cont.

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This past weekend, we unveiled our first white paper, detailing why brands continue to invest millions of dollars into 30-second spots during the Super Bowl and if the investment is worth it. For those of you who haven’t read it, we encourage you to do so before reading this article.  Since the white paper was published, the numbers for this year’s event have been revealed. It felt important to comment on another trend we’re seeing with the Super Bowl audience that reflects our research laid out in the white paper.

If you tuned into Super Bowl LIII this year on CBS, you’d be one of about 98.2 million viewers who did. According to Nielsen, that makes this year’s broadcast the least-watched Super Bowl in 11 years. CBS, on the other hand, released their own numbers, claiming the combined viewership of TV and digital (streaming) reached 100.7 million.

America’s most-watched television event?

Super Bowl viewership was down about 5% from 2018’s audience of 103.4 million. This year’s showdown between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots was expected to draw similar numbers as previous years; not only did they fail to do that, but the household ratings (41.1) were also the lowest in 16 years.

For context, there are a couple of factors that may be attributed to the disappointing numbers.

  1. The game itself was little more than a highly defensive “punting exhibition” and with a final score of 13-3, the Patriots won in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl title game in history. The Rams didn’t even score a single touchdown. Audiences are bored of the New England Patriots. Not that I would know… I tuned out right after the halftime show, which brings me to my next point;

  2. A snoozefest halftime performance. In the eyes of the audience, Maroon 5 was not a suitable replacement for Lady Gaga or Beyonce. The halftime show was also mired in controversy, with big names like Cardi B and Jay-Z refusing to participate in a show of solidarity for the former-49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick has been effectively shut out of the NFL since kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality in 2016 and he hasn’t hidden his disappointment with Travis Scott’s decision to perform at the Super Bowl with Big Boi and headliner, Maroon 5.

  3. A disgruntled New Orleans audience boycotted the event after poor refereeing affected their team in the playoffs to the Big Game. New Orleans is typically a large audience for the Super Bowl.

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So, what of the famous Super Bowl ads? You know, the 30-second commercials that cost millions of dollars to run? They were as lacklustre as the rest of the game.

Ads have been an essential part of the Super Bowl experience for 53 years. The first Super Bowl aired in 1967 and, with half the number of viewers at 51.18 million, they cost a mere $42,000 for a 30-second spot. Fast forward to 2019, where the average cost to run a 30-second ad rings in at $5.2 million. Add in production costs (which can often include pricey celebrity endorsements), digital campaign strategies, app developments and a social media team,  and you’re easily looking at $7+ million in ad spend. However, 100 million still sounds like a massive audience, right?


“100 million people? That’s still a large audience for my brand.”

Not necessarily. Broadcasters cannot guarantee a certain number of impressions or an uptick in sales and awareness. That 100-million member audience doesn’t matter if they’re not YOUR audience. It’s like we always say; it’s about quality, not quantity. In fact, a research study by Communicus found that “80% of all Super Bowl ads fail to change consumer opinions and intentions regarding a brand, and only 10% of consumers remember having seen a given ad in the first place.”


Of course, there have been a number of memorable Super Bowl ads over the decades, but each year, companies compete to stand out against 100+ other spots. This blur of ad messaging goes in one ear and out the other. Even if the ad is memorable, there’s no telling if the audience will remember your brand, rather than the cute kid dressed as Darth Vader, in your ad. It’s just noise.

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Some companies continue to create Super Bowl spots because of FOMO (fear of missing out). Huge brands like Coca-Cola or Budweiser likely aren’t expecting a significant boost in sales, but it’s become a tradition for them to produce a Super Bowl commercial every year. People expect it.

As discussed in our white paper, these (and other) cognitive biases play a role in the purchasing of ad space for the Super Bowl. Companies only see the successful ads, like Apple’s “Here’s to the Crazy Ones,” and use that as proof that advertising in the Super Bowl will work, and the millions of dollars put into the production and strategy of the campaign will be worth it in the end.

Right audience + right context + right message = better marketing

The companies that are successful in their Super Bowl campaigns do well because they are suited to their audience and the audience’s needs at that moment. If a company is advertising salty snacks, fast food, and beer, they are more likely to capture the attention of their audience, who are likely consuming that same food while they’re watching the broadcast. If you’re advertising for insurance or wealth management, however, the Super Bowl audience probably isn’t in the right mindset to receive your messaging.

In our white paper, we cover these topics extensively, taking a look at why brands continue to invest millions into creating Super Bowl ads that may not help them with brand awareness or sales, and where they should be putting their money (and minds) instead.

You can download that here.



Angie LiuComment