Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Super Bowl Commercials - why spend so much money on them?

So much is being written about the Super Bowl commercials. The spots are being rated, categorized, praised and criticized. Well, nothing new about that. What is new though is that companies are reducing costs and struggling to survive in this economic slowdown.

According to, the game attracts almost 100 million viewers, a rather astonishing number given that there are only about 300 million people in the country. In 2008, the official price of a Super Bowl ad was $2.7 million for 30 seconds. This was up from $2.6 million in 2007 and $2.5 million in 2006.

Guess what, this year, it was a whopping $3 million for 30 seconds. Of course, it offers a great marketing opportunity for big brands with big budgets. But does that justify the ad spend? Most advertising agencies in US would jump at the prospect of creating a Super Bowl commercial. For once, the Creative Department would accomodate crazy deadlines and make life that much easier for the Account Management guys. But I can't seem to get rid of this doubt...does spending millions on a commercial make business sense in this economic situation?

Companies are freezing salaries, people are getting laid off, big organizations are downsizing and even the holidays couldn't make people spend like they did last year or the year before that. So why this sudden splurge?

The Super Bowl spot is best used to launch a new product or create long-term brand associations. Remember Toyota Prius and Macintosh? Both made their debut during the Super Bowl. And then we have Coke, Pepsi, Budweiser, Audi, Castrol Oil...the endless list of long-term brand builders with deep pockets and fancy computer graphics. But are today's worried consumers listening? Seems like they are...but only to which concern them.

According to Media-Research firm Innerscope, the top 5 most emotionally engaging Super Bowl ads had everything to do with the present state of the economy. CareerBuilder and Cash4Gold being case in point. Even Hyundai, with their Assurance Program is making an impact on consumers scared of losing their jobs.

Obviously, if an ad sends out the right message at the right time, the target demographic will be engaged but will they be convinced enough to buy something they don't really need? With tips to live frugally flooding the web, will a car-chase or a talking monkey move the American people to shell out their hard-earned dollars? Will a "laugh-out-loud" moment or a "feel-good" ad make us reach out for our wallet?

No, I don't think it will. What it will do though is inject a drop of hope into our minds. Making us imagine a world filled with brand new product possibilities, a healthy rise in consumer demand and subsequently a recovering economy. For now, it is all a dream. But, doesn't all great achievements start with one?

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