Study Finds That Super Bowl Commercials May Be A Waste of Money

A good chunk of the Super Bowl’s expected 100-million viewers say they will tune in just for the commercials, but that doesn’t mean advertisers can expect a tidal wave of new customers. Some evidence suggests that Super Bowl ads actually fare worse than regular ads at influencing consumers — mostly because companies get too creative for their own good. And at $4 million a spot, that’s hardly a good investment.

A study from research firm Communicus, highlighted by AdAge today, found that 80 percent of Super Bowl ads fail to increase sales of their product, a number far higher than the non-Super Bowl failure rate of 60 percent. The study asked consumers their purchasing habits and opinions on brands before the Super Bowl, and then again four weeks later, and found that Super Bowl ads are remembered at a higher rate than regular ones, at 44 percent to 32 percent.

But of those that remembered the Super Bowl commercial, only 35 percent remembered the brand it was associated with. They just remembered the concept. Non-Super Bowl ads, meanwhile, have a brand recall of about 50 percent. So while people remember seeing a specific story, they more often fail to link it to a specific company.

Indeed, the $4 million advertisers spend for a 30-second Big Game ad actually buys a much bigger chance that their ads won’t work, according to the Tucson, Ariz.-based firm. In general, Communicus has found about 60% of ads it tests don’t increase purchase or purchase intent.

The firm reached its Super Bowl conclusions through interviews with more than 1,000 consumers before and after they were exposed to the ads in the 2012 and 2013 games. Before the game, Communicus asks people what they’ve bought recently and what they intend to buy in the categories spanning the Super Bowl advertiser base. Then it follows up with the same group within the next couple of weeks and asks similar questions as well as others in order to gauge whether consumers actually saw Super Bowl ads for various brands. For categories with longer purchase cycles, such as automobiles, Communicus uses other measures such as changes in intention to investigate buying a brand.

CEO Jeri Smith said it takes its first read on a typical ad four weeks after it starts running to allow for multiple exposures. She said one thing that she suspects hurts Super Bowl ads is that many of them don’t air regularly after the game and “we find that one ad exposure often isn’t enough to make anything happen.”

She believes there are other factors at play, too.

“The advertisers really dial up the entertainment quotient to pop to the top of the USA Today rankings and such,” she said. “But we find the brand association with Super Bowl commercials is much lower than you’d get with a typical buy, just because of the way the creative is structured.”

Super Bowl ads actually do better than average in ad awareness, with 44% of people remembering they’ve seen an average Super Bowl ad vs. 32% for other ads that get similar gross-rating-point exposure, Ms. Smith said. But because the creative often focuses less on the brands, she said, people not surprisingly remember the brands less often in Super Bowl ads. People who remember seeing a Super Bowl ad recall the brand 35% of the time vs. about half the time for other ads, she said.

Budweiser’s “Brotherhood” ad from the 2013 game, showing the relationship between a Clydesdale and its trainer, fared well in terms of entertainment value and increasing purchase intent, she said, because the iconic horse is so well linked to the brand and the creative was compelling. “Beer is an affinity product,” she said. “I want a beer that makes me feel good about myself.”

But Tide’s 2013 “Miracle Stain” ad, which was well liked and did well on branding, still didn’t increase purchases or intent, according to Ms. Smith. “It didn’t tell people anything they didn’t already know,” she said. “And unlike Budweiser, I don’t buy Tide because of my personal connection.”

The stydy also finds that most of the automotive commercials “go to the bottom of the list in terms of effectiveness because they all run together in people’s minds,” she said.

Read More at: Advertising Age