Advertising and the Super Bowl

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Every year, millions of viewers from around the world tune in to watch one of the most exhilarating events in sports unfold--the Super Bowl. The one-game, winner-take-all contest for supremacy in the National Football League has grown into more than just a football game opposing the best teams of the NFL. It has become the premier event for new television advertising. With half of the ten, all-time most watched television events having been Super Bowls; networks are able to sell precious seconds of airtime to large companies for millions of dollars. As we move into the 21st century, publicity for the game's commercials has come to rival that of the game itself. Since it's beginning, the Super Bowl has drawn top sponsor dollars and high television ratings. But there are two key events that are linked to the phenomenal rise seen in Super Bowl advertising to what it is today. In 1969, Joe Namath led his New York into Super Bowl III, where they knocked off the Baltimore Colts in one of the most shocking Super Bowl upsets of all time, giving the American Football Conference credibility and causing Super Bowl ad rates to skyrocket. Fifteen years later, in what is widely accepted as the most famous Super Bowl spot of all time, the Apple Computer was introduced, making it a household name and setting a new standard for Super Bowl advertising (Lohse 14).

The incredible climb of Super Bowl advertising is most clearly shown by the current prices for airtime. In last year's Super Bowl matchup between the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens, companies paid CBS close to 2.4 million dollars for a thirty second slot. That amounts to over 75,000 dollars per second. CBS also heavily promoted and aired the show: "The Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials," the night before the big game. "The Super Bowl has become a phenomenon in and of itself for commercials. It provides a breeding ground for advertiser competition and creativity" (Simmons 18). It is the true test of successful advertising. Prestige, worldwide attention, and the desire to increase sales are some of the most obvious reasons companies want to have their ad shown during the Super Bowl. But there is another advantage that can come out of having your name or product aired during the big game. Free publicity. The social factor of public fascination with Super Bowl advertisements can create huge amounts of free publicity. "People are interested in Super Bowl commercials and watch them closely, which allows the media to give them a lot of attention (Goldberg 15). There is also a public relations value of having ads rated highly by media critics and the public, which often results in even more free publicity. Obviously, this free publicity can be a definite bonus for a company, while helping to reduce the otherwise expensive per-commercial costs from a cost-benefit standpoint (Goldberg 16). However, as many companies have come to find out, paying the expensive airtime price and running a commercial during the Super Bowl does not guarantee the company will benefit from it's ad. Empower MediaMarketing(EM2), one of the country's largest media buyers, spent several years researching the question of when it makes sense to air an ad during the Super Bowl. Their study, which was released in 2000, focused on how people watch commercials during the big game. It reported that people pay more attention to Super Bowl ads than regular television ads. However, the study also showed that the average commercial is only remembered by 10% of people, which translates into just 14% remembering Super Bowl ads. Obviously, the higher attentiveness is worth a premium price, but the price for a Super Bowl ad is 200% above the average. "For some advertisers this makes sense. Master Lock put their entire media budget into the Super Bowl for years and had great success. The problem develops when there are several ads vying for attention in one category, like the ‘dot-commers' did in...
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