Super Bowl ads go down the drain…again

Another final of the NFL has come and gone – high five. And another year of analysis paralysis of the advertisements that run during the half time break is underway – high five.

Sorry I’ll stop that – high five – it’s just that the game hardly goes 13 seconds without half the players giving each other skin or touching up each other’s butts. There’s this weird compulsion by the players to over-celebrate everything they do, from breathing to standing still.

I first started observing the Superbowl ads over 20 years ago. I was fascinated by the claims being made about the number of people allegedly watching the ads at half time.

I was also curious about the repeat purchase rate of ads by advertisers, which at the time was extremely low. By the time we got to the great dot-con, half the advertisers had gone broke within a few months of running their multi-million dollar ads on the show. Cause it is a show, it’s not a football match.

I’ve found you can learn a lot just by studying basic human behaviour. And I ask you, what do people in your household do when the advertisements interrupt the programme they are watching, particularly if they are male? I make the comment about males, because it’s physically impossible as a male of the species to watch television without the remote control in their hand. Males would rather leave the room and do something else than lose control over the remote.

If your friends and family are like most people, they do something other than watch the ads – at the least they tune out. I’ve asked audiences of marketers around the world ‘what do you do during the ad breaks?’ and they inevitably provide answers that have nothing to do with watching television.

They make a cuppa, go to the toilet (we’ll come back to that one) get a beer or snack, read something, channel surf  – to use a marketing term, iron, paint toenails, smooch, scratch, make phone calls, text, play with their tablet or mobile, etc, etc.

The fact is that the half time break in any big sporting event is when the smallest part of the audience is watching the television coverage. And it’s more extreme with the Superbowl because it’s 90 minutes from start to half time and after you’ve been sucking down a six-pack of Buds for 90 minutes, the first thing you want to do when the game stops is to take a leak.

According to different sources, some of which have been quoted on television, whole water reservoirs in the US visibly lower during half-time of the superbowl because it’s the single biggest flush of US toilets at any one time during the year.

The reality is, a much smaller audience is watching the ads than watched the first half of the game. Most are relieving and refueling themselves, so they can load up on beers again in the second half.

I tested this theory in Sydney during a rugby league grand final. I asked the Water Board to track the water flow during half time of the Penrith v Canberra Grand Final. And guess what? It was the single biggest flush of the Sydney water system that year.

Yet advertisers continue to blindly pay a fortune to allegedly reach a large audience that doesn’t exist. Well it exists- but mostly during the game, not the ad breaks. Even the superbowl advertisers have turned the ad break into a PR event to try to ensure they get an audience worth paying for.

So you have to wonder if all the cost of production, publicity and monitoring means the ads pay for themselves? Certainly in 2012 lots of people tweeted – but Twitter is a closed environment with only those on Twitter able to participate – and that’s a very small part of the population.

Maybe the objective is not to get a return on the cost of the advertising – that seems acceptable amongst many marketers, though am not sure their shareholders would share/hold the same view.

I don’t follow the NFL and didn’t watch the show. But I forced myself to watch a reel of the ads – to say they were underwhelming is an understatement. But we’ll leave commentary on that to another day.

© Malcolm Auld Direct Pty Ltd 2022 | Commercial In Confidence

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