Is the Super Bowl worth it?

Super Bowl XLV is a few weeks away and the advertising world will once again play a significant role in the biggest TV event of the year.  Over $200 million in ad revenue is on the books for the big game with thirty second spots going for between $2.7 and $3 million each.  Fox will squeeze 45 minutes of ad time into the broadcast with the inventory easily selling out months ago.  A recent report from Kantar Media in NY listed 11 different automotive brands on the roster.  Also noteworthy, at least ten of the advertisers will spend 10% of their annual budget on their Super Bowl spots.  The spot cost has increased close to 50% since 2001.  Of course, millions more go into creative production.  With all the money spent and clutter, it makes you wonder if it is all worth it. 

It’s hard to argue against the numbers based on industry standards whether it’s the huge ratings, billions in rights fees or spot costs.  Approximately 106.5 million viewers tuned into the 2010 Super Bowl making it the most watched TV broadcast ever topping the series finale of MASH in 1983.  Depending on the matchups this year, which should be good either way, we can expect the ratings to again be in the 90 to 100 million viewers range.  For years now the Super Bowl has been much more than a game.  It is practically a national holiday.  People gather for parties and the commercials are part of the spectacle. 

It is understandable why advertisers are attracted to participate.  How else can you reach this many people at one time in an environment where no one is skipping through the commercials with their DVR or channel surfing during the breaks?  Many people actually look forward to seeing the ads and the media world passes judgment with the best and worst lists following the broadcast.  There is a lot at stake so the decision to take part is not simple. 

The usual suspects remain the same this year with AB buying eight spots and PepsiCo. with seven.  The movie studios and the automotives take up a significant portion of the remaining inventory.  Looking at these companies overall advertising budgets, $3 million for a spot should not hurt them.  However, when you are one of eleven automotives running an ad how do you expect not to get lost?  I’m sure there is pressure to be part of the party and there is a certain status to be in the game.  Others feel their creative will help them stand out from the crowd, but we all know there are winners and losers in this area.  Ego must play a role, but with all of the scrutiny you better be pretty sure you can back up the investment with a solid business rationale.

When you look back there are some legendary spots that became part of our pop culture and put some brands on the map.  Apple’s 1984, Coke’s Mean Joe Greene, the Budweiser Frogs or “Waaaassssup”, McDonald’s Bird vs. Jordan, and Monster.com’s “When I grow up” are all classics.  There are several CMO’s, creative agencies and brands dreaming they join this list following Feb. 6th.  I and roughly 100 million others will be watching.