“These ads suck.”


I was a bit taken aback when one of my quieter roommates blurted that out at the end of the third quarter.

He wasn’t wrong. There weren’t even any puppies!

Over the past 5 years or so, we’ve all seen a sharp decline in the quality of ads shown at the Super Bowl. For good reason, too. Apparently, “this year’s Super Bowl advertisers are paying a record high average price of $5 million,” (Forbes) a price tag that’s increased 4.2% since last year, alone (New York Times).


NY Times, $5 Million for a Super Bowl Ad

Now, for 110-115 million viewers, this may not seem like such a bad price tag – 4 to 5 cents per viewer? Dang. But that doesn’t even include the recommended additional 25% of marketing costs for marketing the actual ad itself (NY Times).

So, after all the numbers are in, do they at least work? Well, they definitely don’t sell any additional product (Time Money). So maybe they at least increase brand awareness? Sometimes.

But even then, is it worth it?

Now, don’t get me wrong. Brand awareness is huge. But how much is a Super Bowl ad really doing to help increase your brand awareness? Some researchers estimate that the highest brand-recall rate in the aftermath of Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014 was only 54%, and that the average recall rate for the ten biggest-budget ads was only 23.5% (AYTM).

“23.5%, though, that’s something, right?”

This leads us to another issue with these media-buying opportunities: it is incredibly difficult to know who you’re reaching and to ensure that you are actually reaching your target audience. While ads during the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs tend to accurately reach sport-addicts and tailgaters alike, everyone watches the Super Bowl. You’re basically paying well-over $5 million to throw a flier off of a highway overpass and hope it lands on the right car (ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but still).

Finally, in today’s political climate, it seems that a key way for a Super Bowl ad to be truly memorable or impactful is for the company take a social or political stance. While this may be an important definition of the brand’s mission, it’s not necessarily going to be a good thing. From this year’s Airbnb “We Accept” and 84 Lumber’s “The Journey Begins” being rated as the Super Bowl’s best commercials by Ad Age, to Coca-Cola’s famed “America the Beautiful” commercial and its resulting “controversy” in 2014, some of the most iconic, rewatched, and memorable ads of the past few years have seen brands take stances that do alienate some consumers. While I would argue that each of these stances is one that resonates with the majority of these brands’ consumers, it is still a risky way of gaining and losing customers by stirring a strong emotional response to the brand for better or for worse.

So, is it worth it?

I’d argue that it’s not, and that brands are recognizing that the cost of a Super Bowl ad doesn’t generate the kinds of ROI that they would like to see. With increasingly easier access to comprehensive and informative consumer data, the existence of more accurate targeting techniques, and more cost-effective forms of creating longer-lasting relationships with consumers, Super Bowl ads serve as nothing more than an unwilling indulgence in a time-honored tradition of mass media entertainment.

And with that, go Pats.