In an H&M ad to air during the Super Bowl, David Beckham poses in briefs to promote his Bodywear line. But what seems like a surefire attention-getter could be a multimillion-dollar mistake. Kirk Wakefield, a professor at Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business, said that as a soccer star, Beckham is not the kind of footballer with whom many Americans can identify.
"Clearly, almost no brand targets all of the 160 million people watching," Wakefield told The Huffington Post. "But it better be a substantial amount of that 160 million. "
The hoopla behind Super Bowl ads has spawned a team of skeptics. Growing research shows the $3.5 million that advertisers are paying for 30 seconds during Sunday's game between the New England Patriots and New York Giants often isn't worth the cost.
"If your goal is to get your name out to your target audience, you can find that cheaper somewhere else," Wakefield said.
Wakefield published an article Monday sacking the wisdom that mass exposure on a Super Bowl scale is better. Unless a company is introducing itself or is an established brand that can connect football to its product, such as Coke and Budweiser, millions will be wasted, he said.
With companies dizzy from a rollercoaster 2011 in sales and on the stock market, the Super Bowl presents a platform for quick recovery. But it isn't the Madison Avenue mecca it's cracked up to be, analysts claim. Academics and other naysayers have piled on in recent years against the perceived advantage of pushing product to a broad demographic. Last year, nearly 163 million people watched the game nationwide at some point, according to Nielsen. The chance for a message disconnect runs high.
Among the other advertisers this time around are Audi, Pepsi, Honda, Kia, GoDaddy.com, Doritos and Dannon. The History Channel, Century 21 and H&M are a few of the Super Bowl first-timers. Freshness is an advantage, but Beckham likely won't bend it to the customer target because, female ogling aside, he isn't aligned with a high-profile American sports team that can ignite a passionate connection to the buyer, Wakefield added.
Branding consultant Rob Frankel of the Frankel and Anderson agency in Los Angeles is another opponent of the ad world's win-at-all-cost approach to the big game. He griped that the advertising no longer sells stuff. Because the time is so expensive, there's also no repetition -- a cornerstone of advertising. And there's little else to inspire product retention. Super Bowl spots have become memorable for their presentation but forgettable in terms of what they're trying to persuade consumers to buy, he said.
"What you see on the Super Bowl is less a marketing tactic than a self-glorification tribute among ad agency creative people, each one vying for the attention they never got as children," he said.
Most companies would be better off airing 10 commercials elsewhere at $300,000 or so a pop than blowing their budget on one Super Bowl slot, according to a recent Purdue study. Researchers there interviewed 100 viewers after the 2010 Super Bowl and very few could link the ads with the products.
Using celebrities doesn't work anymore, either. A pair of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professors studied all 538 Super Bowl ads that aired between 2000 and 2009 and determined that famous flops. The findings don't bode well for several celebrity-fueled spots this year, including Century 21 (Donald Trump), Skechers (Mark Cuban) and GoDaddy.com (Jillian Michaels). Animals and kids, however, remain powerful tools. Good news for Coca-Cola's polar bears, Volkswagen's dog choir and for E-Trade's talking baby.
One marketing expert said companies gain more by announcing their ad's entry in the Super Bowl. Forget the actual airing of the commercial. Margaret Campbell, a professor at Colorado's Leeds School of Business, studied publicly traded Super Bowl advertisers from 1989 to 2003 and found that their stock value rose shortly after the media hyped the ads' upcoming appearance. (The exception was Super Bowl regulars.) Nowadays the announcement often comes with a sneak preview on YouTube or elsewhere on the Internet.
"The market is supposed to respond to news," she said. "The news is when people say they're purchasing the Super Bowl ad."
Given the new wave of doubt over Super Bowl advertising, investors better think twice before jumping on a stock because its product is going to advertise in the big game.
"It's more of a water cooler discussion than an investment choice," said Mitch Slater, senior vice president of investments at UBS financial services. "People don't make their investment choice for the year based on a Super Bowl commercial. At least I hope so."