Super Bowl ad clutter hurting recall

On the matter of Super Bowl ad clutter. And, yes, it does matter, hurting recall with viewers

By Diego Vasquez

Clutter is a headache for media people under any circumstances, making it harder for an advertiser’s message to stand out. And when you’re paying a record $2.6 million to deliver that message, as are those advertisers with spots in this year’s Super Bowl on CBS, it’s even more of a concern. According to a report released late last week by TNS Media Intelligence, the Super Bowl has become more cluttered than ever. Last year’s game on ABC contained a record 47.2 minutes of ads, nearly four more minutes than Fox had the previous year. That includes promotions for the Super Bowl carrier’s own shows, a category that has exploded over the past five years. In 2001, the Super Bowl carrier ran 5 minutes and 55 seconds of self-promotion. Last year that soared to 10 minutes and 25 seconds. TNS also found that over the past 20 years, the Super Bowl has run more than 11 full hours of commercials for 221 advertisers, representing an investment of $1.72 billion. But such clutter may be less of a worry to veteran advertisers who have gotten used to the Super Bowl environment. TNS projects nearly two-thirds of this year’s Super Bowl ad spending will be by advertisers who also participated in last year’s big game. Jon Swallen, senior vice president of research at TNS Media Intelligence, talks with Media Life about Super Bowl clutter, how the game stacks up against other sporting events, and the hot ad category the past few years.

You found that last year’s Super Bowl had a record amount of clutter. How much of a concern is this for media people?
I think clutter’s a concern for all advertisers because it does impact consumer’s recall. Arguably it’s probably less of a concern for Super Bowl than for normal programming, but still, all those commercials competing and advertisers paying what they’re paying–it still remains an issue when they have to justify what they’re paying.

How cluttered do you think the game will get before we finally start to see it sink or plateau?
I don’t know. I was surprised when I saw the statistics from last year, because it had stabilized before for a couple years at around 41 or 42 minutes, and last year it jumped to over 47 minutes.

Part of the issue here is the rights the networks pay to broadcast the games. To recoup those fees the network has to be able to sell ads and generate revenue. So I think what puts pressure on the clutter level is the rights fees and the networks’ desire to turn a profit on the event. I think as rights fees rise, we’ll continue to see clutter on the rise as well.

How valuable is the promotional platform that the Super Bowl carrier receives to advertise its own shows?
I think it’s extremely valuable. The commercials you run on your own airtime is the primary mechanism to promote your own programming, and it’s a large captive audience, so it’s a great way to promote your own shows. It won’t guarantee people will watch them, but they’ll be aware of them.

There’s also kind of new a tradition now of a network running one of its programs in the slot immediately after the Super Bowl, using it as a terrific lead-in. The choice the network makes is another promotional benefit the Super Bowl represents for them.

Have you noticed any trends in advertising spending over the past few years for the Super Bowl? Why are they important?
The rates continue to creep upwards, and clutter does too, and those two together keep pushing revenue higher and higher each year.

One of the things that’s changed over the last decade is the composition of advertisers.

Beer and car companies are always there, but what other categories fill out the Super Bowl? That’s where you see some of the trends in the industry. In ‘99 and 2000, there was huge volume of ads. There’s still those now, but not nearly the level it was at six or seven years ago.

In the past several years one of the strong categories has been movies. For the movie category the Super Bowl is a great opportunity because of the huge audience, so it’s the fringes that kind of reflect the trends in advertising.

In-game ads receive most of the attention, but there’s a lot spent on network pre and post-game ads as well. What is the value of spending on these programs for advertisers? Are there reasons advertisers prefer these spots to in-game ads other than the obvious pricing considerations?
I think a good chunk of it is you have to look at the target audience, who’s watching. The game itself attracts a significant female audience, but the pregame stuff is skewed more toward males, the regular-season football demographic. If you’re an advertiser trying to reach upscale males, the pregame shows are a good venue.

But how much does it cost? Less than the game because audience is smaller. But because the pregame telecasts consume a lot of airtime, it creates sponsorship opportunities for advertisers who don’t want to pay the rates of Super Bowl but still want to target that demographic.

So I think the pregame show in particular can be used very strategically as an alternate to in-game spots.

You find that retention rate of incumbent advertiser money is 62 percent, which is actually lower than the Academy Awards and World Series. Why is that and what does it mean?
I think it’s first the unit rate. Paying upwards of $2 million for a 30-second spot is a pricey proposition and one that’s always under scrutiny. So that works against a retention rate. By comparison, a spot in the World Series, while pricey, doesn’t come any where close to the Super Bowl.

The second thing is, particularly with Academy Awards, it has been called the Super Bowl for women, it’s the single largest female audience outside of Super Bowl itself.

By contrast, on the sports audience side if Super Bowl is too pricey, there are more alternatives, so I think that makes the Academy Awards sponsors more eager to renew their commitment as opposed to the male-targeted advertisers.

The TNS report also examines ad revenue for the World Series and Final Four events, and it finds that Final Four revenue has grown the most over the past five years. Why is that?
I think the Final Four has become–the whole March Madness, the whole tournament–arguably the second or third marquee sporting event of the year. The Super Bowl is No. 1, and then you can make a choice of the World Series or the college basketball tournament for No. 2 and No. 3.

I think the timing. The end of the first quarter, beginning of the second works well for basketball. There’re not a lot of other events, so the timing is in its favor. And fan and viewer interest in the event has grown enormously over the past decade. So that helps prop up the viewership level and lets the network increase the rates. The Final Four is the culmination of a two- or three-week event, whereas the Super Bowl is just a one-day event, so it builds to a conclusion.

Diego Vasquez is a staff writer for Media Life.