A media buyer's primer on Super Bowl


With just four weeks to go the hype is upon us

By Toni Fitzgerald

At this time every year, two things inevitably happen. We see a huge post-holiday spike in traffic to online diet sites, and we hear the annual round of predictions about the Super Bowl begin.

What’s perhaps much more interesting is not how many people will watch the big game–85 million, give or take 5 million–or how much ad prices will rise (figure $100,000 per year or so) but how the game works as an ad vehicle.

So here’s a quick look at what media buyers need to know about the Super Bowl.

According to media buyers who spoke with Media Life, the average 30-second spot for the Feb. 4 game on CBS is a record $2.6 million, or 4 percent more than last year’s $2.5 million on ABC.

Roughly 80 percent of the inventory has already been sold, much of it in package deals that moved at last spring’s upfront. Those who buy in the final weeks usually receive price cuts, as do advertisers who buy multiple ads, but advertisers always pay a premium to have their ads run during the desirable first-half slots.

That’s when viewers are still engaged, the game is usually still close, and the halftime beer run has not yet been made.

“The pricing is greater, significantly greater, for spots that run in the first half of the game than spots that run in the second half or pre- or postgame,” says one buyer. “If you run outside the premium areas, you’re going to get a better rate.”

The debate has raged for years over whether the ad buy is worth it. In 1999 and 2000, when money was flowing into the dot.coms, it became a trendy buy, with nearly $50 million spent over those two years by startup companies. Now very few dot.com advertisers remain, this year most notably CareerBuilder and GoDaddy.

Some companies think the exposure of a Super Bowl ad is worth blowing nearly their entire ad budget. In 2005, Diamond of California bought a spot for $2.4 million to promote its fledgling Emerald Nuts brand, representing a quarter of the previous year’s ad budget, according to a report from ad buying agency Carat. But it worked, as the company credits the ad for sales of the snack food rising 56 percent that year.

Indeed, movies promoted during the Super Bowl generally achieve double the opening weekend and final box office numbers as non-Super Bowl advertised movies, according to Carat.

The Super Bowl audience is an attentive one. An Ipsos-ASI study a few years back found that 46 percent of Super Bowl viewers claimed to have watched every ad in the game, compared with levels under 15 percent for several other sporting events.

What’s more, nearly 90 percent could name at least one advertiser in the game, double the level for other sporting events.

There’s always much talk about Super Bowl viewership, which over the past decade has ranged from a high of 90.7 million last year to a low of 83.7 million in 1998. But in these days of increasingly fractured TV viewing, even a Super Bowl featuring a dull matchup between small-market teams will still draw an incredibly large audience.

Last year’s game more than doubled the number of total viewers for the season finale of “American Idol.” Seven of the top 10 most-watched shows in history are Super Bowls, and the game has been the most-watched TV show of the season for 11 straight years.

Beer, movies and automobiles have been the leading advertising categories since 2000. Media buyers say that will hold true again this year, with Anheuser-Busch the top advertiser once again.

Expect lots of promos for “CSI” and the like this year. The last time CBS carried the Super Bowl, it set a record with 27 promos for its own shows. Up until 1999, networks rarely inserted such non-paid commercial minutes in the game.

Finally, one mythbuster. It’s long been held that the Academy Awards are the Super Bowl for women, but that’s incorrect. The Super Bowl actually draws more female viewers than the Oscars, according to an analysis done by Horizon Media in 2005, and by a large margin.

That year the Super Bowl drew 19.3 million women 18-49 compared with 12.1 million for the Oscars in that demo.