On February 5, millions will tune in to watch the Super Bowl. And, many of those millions will also be paying attention to the Super Bowl advertising. Although penalties can be disputed, a simple tally of the number of points scored will forever etch one football team into the winner’s circle. However, choosing the top Super Bowl ad is quite different. This gives rise to this question: How is the winner of Super Bowl advertising determined?
There is no referee to make the call or indelible numbers on a scoreboard. There will be polls, of course. For example, here at the Kellogg School of Management we will grade the various ads on their finesse in brand building and strategic execution. Others will produce a popularity contest giving top honors to the most beloved execution. However, if one wanted to make a case for a definitive metric, one might argue that it would be the advertising that created the largest return on investment. Indeed, such a metric would seem straightforward and of interest to any business.
The problem with the ROI metric is that at the end of the Super Bowl there is no definitive winner. Tim and I have noted this in the past, but the decision to invest in a $3.5 million spot is not solely about the 30 seconds that an advertisement appears on the screen. It is about creating buzz (pre- and post-game) and the ability to use the Super Bowl as a platform for launching subsequent advertising. And, it can also be about motivating employees and signaling brand strength to distributors. All of this makes ROI impossible to capture in an absolute sense, and even the meaning of ROI in a Super Bowl context is debatable.
But these factors raise another exciting question for the upcoming Super Bowl: How will brands maximize their buys? What will they do before, during and after the Super Bowl to take full advantage of their multi-million dollar investments? We have seen a rapid proliferation in recent years of more discussion of Super Bowl advertising online. You can go to YouTube or elsewhere to find the executions shortly after their release. Some brands will release their spots early for the public. Others have started to take advantage of social media such as Twitter or Facebook. For example, last year Audi set up a Twitter feed for its Super Bowl execution, and Budweiser established a Facebook presence letting consumers comment on what ads the brand should run. Of interest will be what each brand will do and who will do it best from a strategic standpoint.
When all the ads have aired, Tim and I will recap some of the strategies employed by brands this year and whether these new tactics are maximizing their Super Bowl ad dollars to move the needle.