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Arts & Entertainment + Sports

Super Bowl Ads: Not Just for Sports Fans

COM prof says better economy=more lighthearted commercials


The E*Trade baby will be making an appearance in Super Bowl ads this year.

The Super Bowl is the biggest annual sporting event in the nation. An estimated 100 million viewers are expected to tune in to Super Bowl XLV Sunday evening when two storied franchises—the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers—take to the gridiron at Cowboys Stadium in Texas.

The NFL championship game is about more than athletic prowess. It’s also about entertainment, namely from the approximately 100 commercials that will run throughout the game. With so many people watching, the Super Bowl gives advertisers a huge captive audience to play to. But that audience comes at a price—a big price. This year, advertisers will pay between $2.8 and $3 million for a 30-second spot, up from about $2.5 million last year. Companies will spend as much as $1 million to produce each 30-second commercial as well.

Super Bowl commercials have become so popular that even non–sports fans tune in just to see how some of America’s biggest brands will pitch themselves. The ads have become as much fodder for Monday morning quarterbacking as the actual game.

Advertising experts say we can expect the usual suspects out in full force. Pepsi—absent from last year’s Super Bowl—returns with three commercials for its iconic beverage. (PepsiCo plans to air seven ads in all, including for its Frito-Lay franchise.) Coca-Cola is running two ads. Other companies expected to air multiple commercials: Anheuser-Busch and Paramount Pictures, five each, Hyundai, three, and Bridgestone Tires and GoDaddy.com, two each.

But what else can we anticipate from this year’s Super Bowl ads? BU Today spoke with Christopher Cakebread, a College of Communication assistant professor of advertising, for his take.

BU Today: Do you anticipate any kind of theme to this year’s Super Bowl ads?
I don’t think there will be any consistent theme. Advertisers use animals, babies, and great-looking women to promote their brand when they have nothing else to say. Ad Age ran a rather sardonic article criticizing the return of the chimpanzee office workers in a spot by Career Builder appearing this year. This, after the pant-less office workers ad (that was consumer-created) Career Builder ran last year, demonstrates why it is better to use professionals than amateurs to create your advertising. There will also be a lot of automobile ads, up to nine, experts say.

What makes for a successful Super Bowl commercial?
I don’t think anyone can answer that. It’s hard to do a good commercial, especially in that environment. It’s really difficult to do an ad that appeals to such a broad audience. Most experts will say you need a “big idea.” True, but how do you define that? You certainly need a product or service that has a relevant benefit and is presented in a compelling way. That’s what—in the noisy, cluttered Super Bowl environment—will stand out. You can do that if you are somewhat original. Humor can work well and has for Bud Light for years, and Snickers last year. It will be interesting to see how similar in creative presentation—or maybe not—the car ads are on Super Sunday.

How many commercials usually run during a Super Bowl?
Over 100 spots ran last year, the first time the game has broken 100, hence the need to be original. An Ad Age article had a Kanter Media survey of last year’s commercial placement: 104 commercials took 48 minutes during the game; 17 percent were network promos, which in my opinion are the worst example of commercial clutter and make it harder for a paying advertiser to stand out. I realize the networks need the promos to promote other programming, but can they not dial back the noise?

What do this year’s ads tell us about the state of the economy?
The automobile industry has bounced back big time, a sign of an upbeat economy, reflected in an industry that took the brunt of less consumers spending the last few years. You’ve got advertisements from premier brands BMW, Mercedes, and Audi. There’s also Chevy, Kia, and Volkswagen among the nine car brands appearing.

People could say the ads weren’t funny last year, but in general it wasn’t a very funny year. It will be more lighthearted this year because the economy is better.

What’s new about this year’s ads?
Mercedes is giving away two cars, and Kia is giving away five. It’s much more unusual for a premier brand like Mercedes to give away product than a less expensive brand. It’s not something the brand does. I think it’s “ticky-tack.” However, the promotions are linked to the two brands, using social media contests as a way to stand out before and during the game. At least I assume the brands will reference the promos during the game, but maybe not.

How is social media changing the content of Super Bowl commercials?
It appears the whole nature of social media will become more pronounced this year. There is no strict model of how to use social media, so it will be interesting to see how the advertisers develop their social media executions, and most important, whether social media users will respond and respond in a positive way for the brand. It’s unpredictable.

The assumption is that during the game, people will be tweeting and updating their statuses instantaneously as the ads come and go. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What if they say an ad is awful?

Can a bad Super Bowl ad still be good for a company?
As the drag queens say, “I spend a lot of money to look this cheap.” The Go Daddy ads are very successful, according to the brand. What’s a bad commercial? The ads look cheap and are sexist—remember my opening comment—yet consumers love them and respond by going to the website, thus allowing the company to measure response to the advertising. It’s a wonderful thing. So is it a bad ad due to the production technique? I would argue no. It’s a great concept updated and freshened that laughs at all the politically correct advertising done in the 2000s.

Last year, USA Today polled survey groups about their favorite Super Bowl advertisements. The ads that appear toward the bottom of this totally unscientific list are the bad ads, and viewers appeared not to like them mostly because they weren’t interesting. We call them bottom feeders. They’ll come in and take whatever they can get, at the lowest unit price. Many of the movie promos broadcast by Hollywood studios end up at the bottom of the poll. Lousy trailers for lousy movies.

There’s always a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking about Super Bowl ads. Any prediction about the ones most likely to resonate with viewers?
Generally the Bud or Bud Light spots do well. E*Trade, with the baby, will be successful. Frito-Lay usually does well. I would like to see BMW do well since they are a wonderful brand and have a great creative heritage. Chevy has a new agency, Goodby Silverstein, out of San Francisco. Their ads might be interesting. Sticking with cars, Audi has done some unique creative work earlier this football season. Pepsi is back and usually does well, but it depends whether it brings back the celebrity style or continues to carry on the Refresh campaign. Snickers has added Roseanne Barr to their advertising, and she is no Betty White. She is a very, very polarizing personality. So I predict viewers will love the ad or hate it. Some advertisers may say they’re not there to sell product, but to entertain. It just seems crazy, but that seems to be what advertisers and their agencies are doing.

Super Bowl XLV begins Sunday, February 6, at 6 p.m., on the Fox network (Channel 25 here in Boston), with kickoff expected around 6:30 p.m. Looking for a good way to watch the Super Bowl on campus? BU’s Student Activities Office is hosting a Super Bowl viewing party at BU Central, 775 Commonwealth Ave., beginning at 6:30 p.m. The party will feature free food, courtesy of Catering on the Charles, a fan dress-up competition, football trivia games, and raffles. The event is free, but you must bring your student ID to be eligible to win prizes.

John Fichera can be reached at jfichera@bu.edu.


2 Comments on Super Bowl Ads: Not Just for Sports Fans

  • Jason on 02.04.2011 at 9:10 am

    Children + Funny Beer Ads = Worse Economy (But great for Big Al)

    Children most often report remembering beer commercials more than any other in the superbowl. Imagine parents and children sharing parent-child moments laughing at beer ads. The sleezy alcohol industry knows exactly what they’re doing.

  • Leigh on 02.05.2012 at 1:14 pm

    good economy that bounced back, what dreamland is this dude living in? 1/2 the country on govt assistance does not reflect a good economy, nor does the ridiculous jobless rate, and so many college grads living back at home and working in the fast food industry. Step outside and talk to middle America, we can tell you about the economy and the cars we are not buying

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