Super Bowl Ads: Should You, Or Shouldn’t You?

Michelle Edelman

Michelle Edelman

Chief Strategy Officer

If you work at an ad agency, no doubt your clients were recently asking whether or not next year’s Super Bowl might be a good investment for them – having looked at all the fun and buzz garnered from the Big Game. For food and beverage brands in particular, it may look like a great way to boost visibility and get on consumer shopping lists.

Sure, one-third of the country is watching, there’s a full 52 minutes of the broadcast that’s national commercial airtime, and people actually watch the spots so they can chat about them. But like any $5-million marketing investment, the answer is “it depends.”

From a viewer’s perspective, it might have seemed as if many of the advertisers on the Super Bowl were food and beverage brands. However, of the 66 national spots, only 16 of those promoted edibles. And only one – Budweiser’s tribute “Born the Hard Way” – registered in USAToday Ad Meter’s top 10.

Several food brands were notoriously absent, including Doritos (breaking a 10-year run), Butterfinger and Taco Bell. Not only that, the trend was toward health or quality messages. No more celebrities chugging Pepsi – instead, Pepsico debuted LifeWTR. Avocados made a big play, Wendy’s went after freshness claims, and Michelob ULTRA celebrated active lifestyles.

Yet the Super Bowl is the 2nd biggest food holiday behind Thanksgiving.

Super Bowl Food Consumption


So why the disconnect between what’s on the table and what’s on TV? Call it “situational flexibility.” Consumers have adopted a healthy mindset, giving props to brands who support their view of themselves and their health-focused lifestyle. But the Super Bowl is an indulgent occasion for them. It’s a rare occasion in advertising to see this divergence so broadly observed.

But what happens post-game? A Stanford University paper calculated a projected 153% ROI for Budweiser and 165% for Coca-Cola due to their Super Bowl advertising, based on the 8 weeks consumption post-game.

Still, Ad Age reported that 60% of Super Bowl ads don’t boost purchases or even purchase intent – though they do increase brand awareness. Genesis Media reported that 90% of viewers were not likely to buy something advertised during the game. It’s widely acknowledged that sales metrics are the wrong metric for Super Bowl advertising. Instead, affinity and memorability in a culturally meaningful moment are what advertisers most yearn for from this kind of buy.

So – is your brand:

  • So big, ubiquitous and broadly distributed that it could gain a bump in spending?
  • So well-funded that a Super Bowl spend is less than 10% of your total spend?
  • Either of the above, but in need of a debutante moment?

If so, the Super Bowl is an easy decision. If not – you’re looking at a big and very visible risk.

For more Peter Mayer Food & Beverage insights, click here.



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