crafting great brandsWith the Super Bowl coming up on Friday, fans and athletes are gearing up for the game. Just as the teams worked all season long in hopes of being one of the two teams to face each other at the kick-off, brands worked all season long perfecting their commercials.

While athletes spent years training, brands must spend an estimated $5 MILLION per 30 second spot.

Here’s more from the Bleacher Report:

This year, CBS is charging as much as $5 million for a 30-second Super Bowl ad. That’s 11 percent higher than the base price of $4.5 million that NBC charged in the 2015 Super Bowl, which was the most-watched broadcast in the history of U.S. television at around 114 million viewers. According to Kantar Media, the price of a 30-spot has increased by approximately 75 percent over the last decade alone, and generates a total of $2.19 billion in sales.

Some argue that the estimated $377 million each brand will spend on its Super Bowl ad is worth the cost (which includes talent, filming, editing, overhead). They point out that Super Bowl commercials not only capture more eyeballs than almost any other event, they get recirculated for years and that the hype over Super Bowl ads brings a ton of free PR.

Certainly, that was true for the Apple Super Bowl ad introducing the MAC. The ad only aired during the 1984 Super Bowl because the family of author, George Orwell, successfully enjoined Apple because it was a play off his book, 1984, where “Big Brother” (presumably IBM) controlled every action, thought, and re-wrote history to effectively stifle dissent.

The Coke Super Bowl ad featuring “Mean” Joe Green aired during the heyday of the Pittsburgh Steelers (my team). The ad was shown during Super Bowl 1980 — a 60-second spot and is being resurrected for NASCAR in 2015. It’s been replayed 1000’s of times and still gets a lot of play on YouTube (BTW, the Apple 1984 Super Bowl ad has almost 1.5 million views on YouTube).

The ROI of a Super Bowl ad

First of all, marketers are not entertainers. While great TV ads can be iconic mini-masterpieces, the goal of an ad is to systematically drive customer behavior and ultimately sales. The real measure of a Super Bowl ad isn’t how much it made you laugh or cry or how often it’s been re-viewed on YouTube; it’s whether it provided the brand a strong return on investment (ROI). When this year’s gang of ads is held to an ROI standard, we see a lot of likely overspending.

That’s what McKinsey had to say about Super Bowl ads in 2012 and the situation hasn’t improved (in fact, many argue it’s degraded).

roi of a super bowl adImage courtesy of Ad Age

This graph shows the massive growth of Super Bowl ad cost since the inception of the Super Bowl in 1967.

Is it worth it?

Big question, small answer. It’s unclear if Super Bowl ads produce massive ROIs to match their massive costs.

Part of the problem results from poor metrics available to assess the performance of traditional media.

  • Did Super Bowl ads bring in more revenue for brands?
  • Would the brand have seen a higher ROI from another marketing strategy?
  • What would happen if a brand decided to forgo Super Bowl ads?

According to an article in the Washington Post prior to last year’s crop of Super Bowl ads:

some studies have shown that as many as 80 percent of Super Bowl ads don’t increase purchases and that people have a hard time recalling the brand associated with a Super Bowl ad they watched.

The Washington Post goes on the defend Super Bowl ad costs based on an average 6.6% increase in consumers “likelihood to buy” a brand — much of it from leading advertisers like Bud who saw a 39.8% increase in likelihood. Of course, likelihood to purchase is a very poor substitute and doesn’t correlate highly with ROI because it doesn’t translate well into consumers plunking down hard earned $$$ of products.

Brandwatch, the social media analytics company, showed brands paid a lot for their social media mentions — ranging from $109 to over $21,000 with an average of nearly $2000 per mention (a very high price indeed when you consider I commonly pay about $2 per engagement for my clients on Facebook). And, many of those mentions were negative. Bleh.

Yet, all is not lost.

Some brands did a great job by combining digital with their traditional advertising to move the needle toward a positive ROI, according to McKinsey. Brands like Best Buy, Chevy, and the movie Battleship did a great job of packaging their traditional and digital advertising into a cohesive campaign that went beyond vanity metrics (likes, Tweets, etc) to generate positive ROI.

What’s a brand to do?

Well, if you read my article on last year’s Super Bowl ads, you’ll see a recurring theme reflecting the challenge to generating ROI from Super Bowl ads.

First, determine what to measure

If you have squishy metrics like eyeballs, mentions, likelihood to buy, recall, etc, you may judge your Super Bowl ads effective, but that doesn’t mean money going into the company coffers or into investor dividends. You need metrics that translate into ROI if you want to truly evaluate the success of Super Bowl advertising.

Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t include squishy metrics. It means you need to capture the customer journey in total to estimate how many folks move from likelihood to customer — from eyeballs to customer.

Here’s the process for evaluating ROI from Super Bowl ads:

  1. Did Super Bowl ads improve these squishy metrics?
  2. Did Super Bowl ads improve movement through the customer journey – ie. did a higher % of eyeballs move to customer
  3. Estimate sales resulting from Super Bowl ads by combining what you know about movement along the customer journey with metrics.
  4. Subtract your costs to produce and distribute the Super Bowl ad.

A practical example might look like this:

  1. You garnered 115 million pairs of eyeballs; 500 mentions on social networks, 7% increase in likelihood to buy.
  2. Super Bowl ads didn’t improve movement along the customer journey.
  3. Thus, if you have a .01% conversion from eyeballs; you end up with sales of a little over 1 million units– pretty bad. If you make $1 per unit, that’s $1 million. You can repeat this for other metrics along the customer journey.
  4. Subtracting the $377 million cost to produce the ad, you lost $376 million on the Super Bowl ad. Sure, you’ll get some residual bang when the ad replays or is accessed through YouTube and, maybe, you gained a repeat customer (which should be part of your customer journey metrics), but it’s a pretty dismal investment.

But, hey, maybe you did a whole lot better than that. I’m just advocating for a systematic process resulting in a sound ROI number.

Optimize results

Obviously, your Super Bowl ads don’t stand alone, but should be part of a comprehensive marketing campaign both through traditional and social media.

Begin PR about your Super Bowl ad weeks before the actual game and leak it out over social media. Next, during the game, continue your social media campaign my live Tweeting and crafting Facebook posts that bring in your target audience. Upload your Super Bowl ad to YouTube as the game starts or shortly after it airs during the game and link to it in all your social media posts. After the big game, share your results in PR and social networks, have media buys in place for the weeks that follow, and continue your social media campaign with posts that build off the original Super Bowl ad.

Transfer knowledge

Host a postmortem for your ad and record insights to help with next year’s Super Bowl ads. Be sure to include metrics as well as feedback from viewers and social comments in the report.