Okay, So Even the Venerable Super Bowl isn’t Always So Super

Image credit: Syda Productions / Shutterstock.com

It may not be as bad as finding an empty vault in Al Capone’s basement but the LIII Super Bowl Game certainly failed to deliver on the anticipated excitement, either for the fans watching the game or the advertisers who spent a large share of their annual marketing budget to advertise during the event. The estimated $5 million per 30-second spot always comes with a significant amount of doubt as to its real value.

This year’s mega game was the least watched Super Bowl matchup in 11 years and is ranked as the lowest rated in 16 years. CBS says the broadcast averaged 98.2 million viewers and a 41.1 household rating, almost as exciting as the activity playing out on the field. Even the halftime entertainment failed to excite the dulling malaise in the stadium. Perhaps the only star-studded performance of the week was the city of Atlanta and its ten thousand volunteers who put forth an award winning performance.

For advertisers who spent a ridiculous sum to produce a bevy of television commercials, they couldn’t be happy that the coveted number one commercial, as judged by the USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter, was the event’s owners and producers, The National Football League. It’s akin to entering a contest and having the contest organizer take the top trophy at the end of the show. Runner-up was the Amazon Alexa ad about technology gone haywire, followed by Microsoft’s ad about children with disabilities using the Xbox adaptive controller to play video games. The major beer brands’ efforts appeared to be as skillful as the two competitors on the field, just a bit off their best games. It appears as though brewing beer with molasses is a big deal, or maybe not.

The only clear winners were women, whose participation rate in commercials ticked up over previous bowl events. Toyota, Olay, Bumble and Michelob Ultra are among the brands that put women front-and-center in Big Game ads. “It seems like there’s an awful lot of humor and light appeals, and that for advertisers it’s somewhat of a play-it-safe year,” said Charles R. Taylor, a professor of marketing at the Villanova University School of Business. “We’re not hearing about anything crossing over in politics.” A resounding Bravo could be heard from avid football fans that spent more than $2,500 per seat to be entertained and $1 thousand for a bed to sleep in after all the partying.

Now that the crowds have gone home and the Champion’s parade has cleared the streets, it’s time for the marketers who convinced their C Suites that the million (plural in many cases) dollar tab was worth the effort. In the end, taking win place or show in the ad game only matters when revenue is added up. Unlike last year, the players on the margins of ROI won’t have the Olympic Games to soften a rough landing.

One aspect of advertising the big game from year to year is the answer to the question, “Was it worth the money?” It still remains in the wind. Measuring the impact of a single-event television ad is like asking an AM radio personality how many people heard a specific 30 seconds of the broadcast. In reality, the best answer you can hope for is a fair share of the audience that hadn’t nodded-off. The most successful ads tend to be those that elevate the institutional value of the brand over time. It’s sort of “you’re not sure but you’ll know the answer when you feel it.” Regardless of the answer, it is almost a given certainty that most of the admen and adwomen who turned out a team to play in this year’s LIII Super Bowl will return for an encore performance next year. The whole thing is just too good of a spectacle to miss. And besides, would you want to be the marketing manager who passes on the one year that the competition beats you badly at the goal line?