Super Bowl LI (51) is one for the record books.  Not because Tom Brady won his league tying fifth Super Bowl, or because it was the first game in the series to go into overtime, but because approximately $650 million (65 minutes of advertising at $10 million per minute) was spend on advertising.1 The average cost for a 30 second television spot of $5,000,000 is up from $4,898,000 last year, and more than double the cost a decade ago ($2,385,000 in 2007).2 According to Forbes, a 30-second Super Bowl spot is a “bargain at $5 million”3, the main reason being the overall cost is $0.04 – $0.05 per viewer.  Let’s look at the real cost and impact from a Super Bowl Ad.

Reason #1: Millions Were Spent Serving Ads That Nobody Saw

Distractions are everywhere during the Super Bowl. Whether you’re watching the game at a party, bar, restaurant, or even in the comfort of your own home, rarely did the television have your full attention.  The largest distractors of them all: smartphones.

In 2015, Nielson conducted a lab study4 to measure the engagement from television, compared to other media devices. The study also analyzed the ad attention that consumers showed when viewing multiple screens. In fact, when multitasking, consumers increased their focus on the “second screen.” In situations where consumers had at least two screens open at the same time (i.e. watching TV while browsing their mobile phone/tablet/laptop) the results were astounding: ads on television were only paid attention to 30% of the time.  During this same multi-tasking situation, laptops received 71% ad attention, tablets received 93% attention, and smartphones received an unbelievable 100% ad attention rating.

This same study also found that smartphone users are nearly twice as engaged with ads, when compared to television users. Television was found to hold a consumer’s attention about 39% of the time, compared to 77% for smartphones. So even if a viewer had full focus from the multitude of distractions, the television ads only connected with less than half.

Let’s do a little simple math. If $650 million was spent on television ads for the Super Bowl and users are only attentive and engaged 30% of the time (due to the many distractions out there), that means approximately $455 million was spent on advertisements that received little to no attention. Obviously, television viewers won’t always be distracted, but it does paint a picture of how ineffective television advertising can be at times.

Let’s assume that same $650 million was spent on digital advertising. As a caveat, there are approximately 223 million smart phone users in the United States5, approximately 70% of the total population. If $650 million was spent on smartphone advertising during the Super Bowl, and the ad attention rating on a smartphone is 100%, that would all $650 million was effectively utilized. It would be incorrect to assume these numbers to be completely accurate, but we do know that the actual percentage was extremely high. On Twitter alone, there were over 27.6 million tweets using the Super Bowl hashtag: #SB51.6

So ultimately, you could spend $650 million on television ads with inconsistent, even negative results, or you could spend $650 million on digital (smartphone) advertising.  But really, it’s not even the ad attentiveness that makes television so ineffective: that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Super Bowl Fail: 3 Reasons Why TV Ads Are A Waste Click To Tweet

Reason #2: Television Advertising is to a Magnifying Glass as Digital Advertising is to a Microscope

Magnifying glasses serve a very specific purpose, they allow you to take a closer look at something.  In marketing this is commonly referred to as segmentation.  With television advertising, you can choose what channel you would like to advertise on, what time slot, and you can control your messaging.  This control allows you to hone in on your target audience.  By taking a more granular approach with your targeting, a perceptive marketer can effectively increase their return on ad spend.

The problem with the magnifying glass approach with the Super Bowl arises from its popularity, with 100+ million annual viewers. How can you align your messaging and ad effectiveness when serving to such a large audience?  It is extremely difficult.

Advertisers know that they have 30 seconds to make the most impactful commercial possible, that will resonate with consumers.  Advertisers have gotten more creative in years past, in hopes of being the “watercooler discussion” or (in recent years) going viral – a good example this year being 84 Lumber.7 The “Top 10 Super Bowl Commercials from 2017” compilation on YouTube already has over 7 million views and we are a less than a week removed from the game.8 There are certainly winners from Super Bowl television advertising9, but there are also too many “losers” to count.

Digital advertising is the most powerful advertising channel in the World, primarily because of the microscopic approach you can take when segmenting out your target audience.  With digital, you can serve your ads to a customized audience of people, re-market to consumers that had previously viewed your ad, and even target a specific physical address. Capabilities that make television advertisers drool.

The point is, with the microscopic segmenting and targeting options available across digital advertising you can ensure that your advertising dollars are being spent as efficiently as possible. Would you rather zoom in to a specific audience 10 times (magnifying glass) or 100 times (microscope)? Additionally, most digital advertising is based on the pay-per-click model, which means you won’t pay a cent unless your audience has engaged with your ad.

So, you could take the shotgun approach with a Super Bowl ad, cross your fingers and hope your audience remembers it, or take the laser beam approach and target a specific audience down to the name, address, and phone number, and have full peace-of-mind knowing that you are spending your ad dollars as efficiently as possible.

Reason #3: Without Additional Exposure the Ad Messaging Will Forever Be Lost

In advertising, there is a term called “effective frequency.”10 The effective frequency is the number of times a person must be exposed to an advertising message before a response is made and before the exposure is considered wasteful. So basically, your ad would need to be seen an x number of times before the consumer responds, but after a certain number of y views it will no longer be impactful.

Thomas Smith, in his book “Successful Advertising,”11 makes the following reflection on effective frequency:

The 1st time people look at ad, they don’t see it.

The 2nd time, they don’t notice it.

The 3rd time, they are aware that it is there.

The 4th time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it before.

The 5th time, they actually read the ad.

The 6th time, they thumb their nose at it.

The 7th time, they get a little irritated with it.

The 8th time, they think, “Here’s that confounded ad again.”

The 9th time, they wonder if they’re missing out on something.

The 10th time, they ask their friends or neighbors if they’ve tried it.

The 11th time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.

The 12th time, they start to think that it must be a good product.

The 13th time, they start to feel the product has value.

The 14th time, they start to feel like they’ve wanted a product like this for a long time.

The 15th time, they start to yearn for it because they can’t afford to buy it.

The 16th time, they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.

The 17th time, they make a commitment to buy the product.

The 18th time, they curse their poverty because they can’t buy this terrific product.

The 19th time, they count their money very carefully.

The 20th time prospects see the ad, they buy what it is offering.

Mind you, this book was written in 1885! However many of these lessons still hold true to this day.

In marketing, it’s common to follow the ‘Rule of 7’12, which essentially states that that a consumer needs to “hear” the advertiser’s message at least 7 times before they’ll take action to buy that product or service.

Mainly commercials will continue to live on past the Super Bowl, and the fan favorites will surely go viral and be replayed a countless number of times, but what about the rest? How many “one and done” commercials are still warm in their freshly dug graves?

So, is $5 Million Really a Bargain?

Forbes might consider a 5 million-dollar Super Bowl commercial a steal, but when you consider all the factors that must take place to make a TV spot that succeeds, anyone can see that it’s a poor investment choice. The truth is, Super Bowl or no Super Bowl, most viewers are distracted viewers. Whether viewers are watching the biggest television event of the year or catching up on politics on a weeknight, the best place an advertiser can turn to is the distraction these viewers are dedicating more of their attention to. This is why digital advertising is taking over the marketing world. It’s an efficient form of advertising that can reach your target market in your target area repeatedly with a messaged that’s targeted to what your ideal customers need to hear in order to take action. While your customers are busy on their smartphone during the next commercial break, you can have 100% of their attention without paying an absurd amount of money.