The escalating chatter surrounding Super Bowl XLIV is not just about the teams competing for the 2010 championship. The TV commercials that will appear during the game are also the subject of discussion and speculation. Participating advertisers will once again be confronted with the difficult question of whether the Super Bowl is a smart marketing investment or a wasted use of the budget.
TNS Media Intelligence combed through its extensive database to report on the past 20 years of Super Bowl advertising. From 1990 thru 2009, the Super Bowl game has generated $2.17 billion of network sales from a total of 210 different advertisers and more than 1,400 commercial messages.
“The Super Bowl remains a singular event for engaging the broadest number of consumers at one time,” says Mark Nesbitt, president of TNS Media Intelligence. “Because it is viewed live and experienced by a majority of the country at the same time, a commercial presence on the broadcast has great significance and impact for a brand, making each not so much a brand message as a brand event. It is why a presence on the broadcast lends itself so effectively to an integrated marketing effort.”
“As an advertising event, the Super Bowl has evolved beyond a vehicle for presenting expensive, stand-alone commercial spots that seek to entertain viewers and generate awareness,” says Jon Swallen, senior vice president of research for TNS Media Intelligence. “Increasingly, in-game spots are being supplemented by elaborate integrated communications programs that attempt to drive traffic online or in-store, generate positive social media discussion, incorporate public relations efforts, and ultimately achieve a strong ROI.”
The top five Super Bowl advertisers of the past 20 years spent $783 million on advertising during the game, accounting for 36 percent of total advertising revenue. Anheuser-Busch and PepsiCo, which have appeared in every game during this period, lead the pack, followed by General Motors, Walt Disney, and Time Warner.
Although Pepsi soft drinks will not be advertised in this year’s game, ending a 23-year streak, the PepsiCo parent company will still be represented by its Frito-Lay snack food division. General Motors will be absent from the game for the second year in a row. Prior to dropping out in 2009, GM had advertised in 11 of the previous 12 Super Bowls.
The cost of a 30-second advertisement in the Super Bowl has more than quadrupled in the past 20 years and reached $3 million in 2009. The recessionary environment is expected to yield lower pricing for the 2010 game, with CBS reportedly selling 30-second units for between $2.5 and $2.8 million.
The amount paid by individual marketers will vary depending on where the ad runs in the game, how much commercial time is purchased, and whether the advertiser opts for a larger package that includes spots in the pre-game and/or post-game coverage.
Since 2005, the annual Super Bowl ad lineup has had between 30 and 35 different companies. First-time advertisers are accounting for 20–25 percent of the ad roster. The ad time vacated by such long-time sponsors as FedEx, General Motors, and Pepsi is being taken over by other companies eager for the recognition and brand-building opportunity of the Super Bowl stage.
The first-time advertisers in the 2009 game were Cash4Gold.com, Castrol, Denny’s, Teleflora, and Vizio. For the 2010 contest, the rookie lineup is expected to include Electronic Arts and HomeAway, among others.
Over the past ten years, the volume of commercial time in the game has been edging upwards even as the price of advertising has become more expensive. The NBC telecast of the 2009 Super Bowl contained a record 45 minutes, 5 seconds of network ads. This included paying sponsors, commercial messages from the NFL, and “house ads” aired by CBS to promote its own shows.
What kinds of products are most frequently advertised on the Super Bowl? The popular perception is that beer, soft drinks, and autos are the prime ad categories, given their annual presence in the game.
Actually, the leader by dollar value is promotional advertising from the network itself. In a typical Super Bowl, 15–20 percent of all commercial time is a plug by the network for its own programming. In 2009, the value of this air time exceeded $42 million.
“The Super Bowl offers the host network an attractive platform to promote its upcoming programming and try to build an audience,” Swallen says. “In deciding how much ad time to keep for itself, the network has to assess the trade-off between giving up current revenue in the game versus building future revenue from its other programming.”
Over the past decade, the Super Bowl has attracted a bevy of different movie studio, automotive, and dot-com companies, making them the most populous and competitive ad categories.