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Super Bowl Ads Cost Big Bucks, Deliver Huge Audience

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Steve Schy

The Super Bowl is traditionally one of the biggest television events of the year, and as a result, it is the top showcase for advertisers trying to reach the National Football League championship game's huge audience.  But, the worldwide economic slowdown has had an impact - with advertising prices falling for just the second time in the Super Bowl's 44-year history.

Even people who do not care about American-style football often watch the Super Bowl, with an estimated worldwide audience this year of around one billion people.  In the United States, it is like a gigantic national party day that no one wants to miss.  And with a total U.S. audience estimated to be around 150 million viewers, Thomas Harpointner, CEO of the e-business and interactive consulting company AIS Media, says many advertisers don't want to miss it either.
 
"The commercials are the most talked-about commercials on the planet," he said. "And that's what makes the commercials and the opportunity to advertise on the Super Bowl so special.  So for a company that is just launching, or launching a new product line, or is making a big company shift, the Super Bowl offers a unique platform."

Another unique feature of advertising on the Super Bowl is that even many who are not football fans, tune in just to watch the commercials.  Aimee Picchi, who writes about business and marketing for AOL's Daily Finance, says studies have shown the ads are quite effective.

"Two-thirds of the respondents remembered their favorite brand advertiser from last year's Super Bowl, but only 39 percent recalled the winning team," she said. "These ads do have a huge impact.  So many people know that they are watching the Super Bowl not just for the game but for the ads, that they are paying close attention to the ads and to the messages." 

Even though the recession has forced a drop in the amount it costs to buy commercials in the big game for just the second time in history, they are still the most expensive on television.  In 2009, the cost for a 30-second commercial reached an average of $3 million. 

But a survey of advertisers and media buyers by ad researcher TNS Media Intelligence says in 2010, that same commercial is selling for between $2.5 million and $2.8 million.  Even at those prices, the commercial inventory is nearly sold out.  With such a huge audience, Aimee Picchi is not surprised.

"It's probably the only place today where you can get that huge amount of people watching, wanting to watch the ads.  That alone is worth quite a bit of money," she said. "There was a study I just read which mentioned that one Super Bowl ad can be as effective as 250 regular TV commercials." 

However, commercials for some of the products you might expect to see advertised in the Super Bowl will be missing this year.  PepsiCo will not be advertising its flagship soft drink in the game for the first time in 23 years.  They join automaker General Motors and delivery service FedEx, who dropped out last year.  In addition to the expense of buying the commercial time, Thomas Harpointner says there are additional costs that many forget.

"The amount of preparation that goes in, you know, companies spend millions more in production costs, man hours, PR [public relations].  A substantial amount of time and resources are committed to a Super Bowl ad," he said. "There has to be a strategy beyond just a 30-second ad.  The question has to be 'How do we maximize the value of the traffic that we're going to receive?'"

For a lot of advertisers, internet advertising, social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook, and internet searches on sites such as YouTube can be the answer.  When added to the "word of mouth" discussions around office water coolers, Aimee Picchi says they give the commercials an even greater reach and impact to build customer awareness. 

"There are so many ways to view Super Bowl ads on the web following the Super Bowl," she said. "And the Super Bowl for decades has been the one time that you are actually interested in watching the ads.   A huge number of people who say they are going to watch the Super Bowl also plan to re-watch the ads online after the game is over." 

As some advertisers abandon Super Bowl ads for new media campaigns, newcomers and smaller companies take their places to advertise on the big game.  The TNS survey says that in a typical year, as many as 25-percent of the advertisers are new to the broadcast.  Video game company Electronic Arts, the U.S. Census Bureau and vacation rental company HomeAway are among those buying Super Bowl commercials for the first time in 2010.  Brian Sharples, CEO and founder of HomeAway explains why his company decided to invest in Super Bowl advertising.

"It falls right smack in the peak season of our business," he said. "And as it turns out, most people do that planning in the first quarter.  Right in the January, February, March time-frame.  And so the timing was great for us." 

And if you think there are more commercials breaking up the action on the field than there used to be, you're right.  Last year's Super Bowl telecast included a record 45 minutes and five seconds of air time for commercials.  But the biggest Super Bowl advertiser is not a carmaker or beer or fast food sponsor.  That distinction belongs to the broadcast network (this year CBS) itself, which takes as much as one-quarter of the commercial time to promote its own shows.
 

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