Upon Further Review, Costly Super Bowl Ads Don't Drive Sales or Brand Lift

02/03/2017 12:37 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2018

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By Bill Coontz, President, The Dalton Agency (Atlanta)

If a brand is looking to make a splash, there’s no better way than running an ad during the Super Bowl, which this year will cost $5 million for 30 seconds of air time.

But do the ads actually help sell product or create lasting brand awareness? The answer is a resounding no, especially considering consumers’ fleeting attention span.

A study by marketing data science company Genesis Media found that 90 percent of consumers aren’t likely to buy something they saw advertised during the Super Bowl. The reason? Brand metrics such as “favorability” or “recall” don’t result in purchases for products featured in Super Bowl ads.

Maybe that’s why Kraft Heinz decided against spending $5 million on an ad that won’t sell one ounce of ketchup. The company announced that they’re giving all 42,000 of their salaried employees Super Bowl Monday off, hoping the earned media value will exceed what they would have paid for a coveted spot on Fox this Sunday.

It’s a great example of how brands are thinking differently about creative ideas, tactics and execution. 

It is also a sign of the changing times. For the last few years, the strategic execution of Super Bowl ads has changed from a one-time event on Super Bowl Sunday, to using an ad as a springboard to launch integrated digital and social media campaigns. Research from last year’s Super Bowl suggested that Super Bowl ads in 2016 generated as much as $10M in incremental exposure for advertisers.

Some brands go overboard on concept, like Mercedes-Benz, which last year relocated its N. American headquarters to Atlanta. The venerable luxury car brand hired The Coen Brothers to direct an “Easy Rider” themed Super Bowl spot featuring Peter Fonda. That’s easily an eight-figure budget for an ad that, if the studies are accurate, won’t sell many cars.

So does that mean that Super Bowl ads are all about brand awareness? Not really. A full 75 percent of respondents from the Genesis Media study said they couldn’t remember ads from the previous year.

Advertising technology company Fluent surveyed 1,600 Super Bowl watchers in 2015 to test the effects of five first-time ads, finding that the average "brand lift" – whether viewers could recall advertisers after their first Super Bowl ad – was just 12.7 percent.

That’s not an ROI that many brands can readily justify, and the main reason why the Super Bowl will remain the ultimate arena for the advertising budget haves and have-nots.

About the Author

Bill Coontz brings large agency-management experience to the Dalton Agency. His resume includes such leading firms as Bozell Minneapolis, BBDO, Campbell Mithun, Martin Williams, and most recently, Kruskopf Coontz Advertising in Minnesota, where he served as president and partner. His network and knowledge enhance the Dalton Agency’s ability to serve clients requiring strategic marketing and communications on a national and international scale. Bill’s 25 years of advertising experience include work for many domestic and global brands, including United Healthcare, Optum, 3M, Cargill, General Mills, Kraft and Ameriprise. Bill has also served two terms as president of the Advertising and Marketing International Network (AMIN). His AMIN leadership was marked by the development and strategic integration of AMIN North America with AMIN Europe, forming AMIN Worldwide. As a result, he was elected Global Chairman of AMIN in 2011 and expanded the organization to include the Americas and Asia.