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Super Bowl Advertising: 2009 vs. 2010

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Super Bowl season is almost upon us and once again the question of whether companies should spend money on Super Bowl commercials has emerged.

Last year, economic circumstances were quite different. For example, Monday January 26, 2009 was labeled Black Monday because it was the day that many large corporations announced fourth quarter results for 2008 and, predictably, the results were not good. In one day, Home Depot announced it would lay off 7,000 employees, Sprint, 8,000 workers, and Caterpillar, an additional 5,000 (for a total of 20,000). Pfizer announced it would buy Wyeth and lay off 10% of the workforce or about 5,000 people, and ING cut 7,000 positions. In total, 71,400 jobs were shed on Monday January 26 2009, making a total of over 200,000 jobs in the first few weeks of 2009 - not to mention the 2.6 million jobs lost in 2008, the most jobs lost in one year since the end of World War II. And of course, job losses continued and unemployment is now hindering a quick economic recovery.

Debate about whether or not to advertise during the 2009 Super Bowl provides great insight into the dilemma many marketers were facing at the time. Since a 30 second Super Bowl commercial costs $3m (or $100,000 per second!), the cost was hard to justify when so many people were either being laid off or fearful of being laid off. Then there were questions of advertising effectiveness. As Bruce Horowitz noted in the USA Today (January 30, 2009), prior evidence suggests a direct relationship between consumer confidence and advertising recall - when consumer confidence is low, advertising recall is also low. Then there is the issue as to the appropriate message to use in a Super Bowl commercial. Is the Super Bowl a time to bring a "moment of joy" to consumers as Pepsi did? Or is the Super Bowl a time to show the company is still around, as Audi did? Or is the Super Bowl best avoided because advertising on the Super Bowl sends the wrong message to employees and constituents, which is why FedEx decided not to advertise during the Super Bowl of 2009 (Horowitz, 2009). As Steve Hayden, the Vice Chairman at Ogilvy Worldwide said, "This is the first Super Bowl of the Great Depression 2.0."

But the dark days seem to be over and the Super Bowl is just a few weeks away. Let's hope Super Bowl marks a return to good old-fashioned brand building, something that was lost through the recession.

Jenny Darroch is on the faculty at the Drucker School at Claremont Graduate University. She is an expert on marketing strategies that generate growth. See www.MarketingThroughTurbulentTimes.com.