Super Bowl Sunday is upon us. The NFL got the match up it wanted, with the top team in each conference facing off. CBS has announced that advertising inventory is now fully sold out at rates reported to be as high as $3 million per 30-second ad. All that is left is to sit back and enjoy the game, unless you are an advertiser, in which case you also need to evaluate the impact of your investment.
For the 4th consecutive year we at the Keller Fay Group will be evaluating the word of mouth impact of Super Bowl ads, and in advance of the game we have reflected on some of the most common questions that are asked each year by marketers who are investing in the game (or considering doing so) and for which previous experience provides answers.
Leading up to the game there is a lot of trade press attention about which advertisers are in and which are not. The day after, the results of the USA Today Ad Meter will report on favorite ads. But when it comes right down to it, people want to know, does the Super Bowl really generate substantially more word of mouth for advertisers? The answer is a clear "Yes," and for strong performing ads the word of mouth lift is very substantial.
We generally see that brands which advertise in the Super Bowl are rewarded with a 15% increase in word of mouth. (Last year's game, coming is it did in the midst of the recession and economic meltdown, saw a more modest though still positive impact.) This translates into more than 100 million more incremental conversations for advertised brands in the week after the game, than the average weekly word of mouth they were realizing previously. The top performing advertisers are themselves generating between 5 and 15 million additional conversations each about their brands. When you consider that it has been estimated that a word of mouth conversation is worth 50 cents, there is a considerable amount of "social value" being generated, above and beyond the impact the ad has on an individual viewer.
One of the big questions leading up to the 2009 Super Bowl, and an even bigger question for this year, is the role of social media and commercial viewing via YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet. While the results for 2010 are still to be determined, the role of the Internet in driving brand conversation last year was more muted than we might have expected. Whereas there was a large increase in the number of people talking about TV ads as part of their conversations about advertised brands, there was very little increase in the percentage of people talking about the Internet – either social media sites, or corporate Web sites, or other online activity. Maybe things will be quite different this year and we will certainly keep an eye out for it. But "the main event" in 2009 remained the TV ads themselves and not the online tie-ins.
The question of whom to target with Super Bowl advertising is always an interesting one. Is it "the guys" who should be the focus of the advertising? Or, given that a large number of women tune in to the Super Bowl too, should the focus be on a dual audience, or women specifically? Wal-mart is an example of an advertiser that has realized it has an opportunity to reach women with ads in sporting events. In 2009, our research found that while absolute levels of conversation about advertised brands were higher for men than women, the biggest increases in conversation levels generally came from women. This is an event that can capture the attention of, and word of mouth from women with ads that are focused on them, or on a dual audience.
A final question we often get asked is whether "buzz" about ads isn't just focused on those with humorous themes. While it may well be that some measures of "which ads are most liked" favor those that are funny, when it comes to word of mouth we see that ads of all types can generate conversation. In fact, the top performing ads over the past few years – as measured by those that generate the most word of mouth lift – are split evenly among those that are funny, those that are not, and those in which advertisers decided to run a mixture of some humorous and some non-humorous ads. There is clearly no single path to word of mouth impact from your Super Bowl investment.
Sunday promises to be a high-scoring game on the field. And it is likely to once again be a high-scoring event for the advertisers who have made the investment to advertise. We'll know the outcome of the game by about 10pm Sunday night; for the word of mouth winners, we'll need to give viewers close to a week to engage in conversations about the advertisers. Let the conversations begin!
Ed Keller, CEO of the Keller Fay Group, has been called "one of the most recognized names in word of mouth." The publication of Keller's book, The Influentials, has been called the "seminal moment in the development of word of mouth." Ed can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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