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Super Bowl Ads Might Be Fun to Watch, But They Don't Drive Sales

While consumers might be more likely to engage with the ads, they're unlikely to lead to higher sales.

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It's supposed to be the pinnacle of advertising: 30 seconds on the most valuable airtime in America to tell your story and ultimately sell your stuff. But a study suggests that a Super Bowl ad spot might not be all that effective when it comes to sales.

The study was reported by Ad Age and conducted by advertising research firm Communicus. It was based on more than 1,000 interviews with consumers around the last two Super Bowls. The subjects were asked about that were set for advertising spots each year, and the same group was interviewed after the ads ran to gauge the effect of the commercials.

The finding: 80 percent of commercials shown during the Big Game had no effect on consumers' intent to purchase the products or services they featured. That's a 20 percent difference from Communicus's figure of 60 percent for non-Super Bowl ads.

Other findings from Communicus suggest possible reasons for this failure to convert.

What's Wrong With This Picture

For one, advertisers are right to think they have a better chance at telling a resonant story during the Super Bowl; 44 percent of consumers recall specific ads from the game as opposed to 32 percent for other ads.

But the storytelling actually works against the brand and undoes this potential advantage, with only 35 percent able to associate the company or product with the ad itself, as opposed to about 50 percent for other ads.

Of course, those two data points can't be taken separately. An advertisement that stresses the brand rather than a funny scene or big story is probably less likely to resonate in consumers' minds.

But the contrast speaks to a need for advertisers to find creative ways to make sure their big production--and it is a big production, with a $4 million price tag for a 30 second spot--to find creative ways to make sure consumers don't just remember their ad, but also what it's meant to sell. (The shift by many companies toward a multi-channel Super Bowl ad approach this year might represent one such tactic.)

What Really Works

One interesting finding: Commercials for new products performed better in Communicus's research, as the content of those ads tends to stay a bit more focused on the products themselves. So a small business reaching out to a much wider audience might perform a bit better...except that said small business would face the small hurdle of scrounging up that spare $4 million.

Communicus's study needs to be taken with some grains of salt. Chiefly, its focus on "intent to purchase" as the metric by which it studies the ad's effectiveness has the small hole of requiring a level of self-reporting from consumers and doesn't get at the potential subconscious effects or the long-term goals of the commercials. 

However, the research does dispel the idea that putting a high-budget ad in front of most of the United States will immediately and automatically result in a massive windfall.

Last updated: Jan 21, 2014




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