Super Bowl XLIX: A Battle for Your Attention

With well over 100 million viewers expected to tune in, the 2015 Super Bowl represents a huge opportunity and a huge challenge for marketers to win mindshare.

30 Jan 2015   Christian Camerota

The stream of creative energy that runs through Super Bowl advertising owes a partial debt of gratitude to an unlikely source: smartphones.

Far from fragmenting fan attention during the big game, the proliferation of smart devices has allowed viewers to multi-task while watching the NFL’s marquee offering. And that, in turn, has opened up a whole new world of creative possibilities for advertisers.

Harvard Business School assistant professor Thales Teixeira has spent two years studying the relationship in user behavior between television and handheld devices and how media multitasking affects and informs marketing strategies. Among many findings, Teixeira discovered that television advertisements can and do spur significant web traffic and drive direct sales through secondary devices with the right kind of creative content. The devices offer their users instant access to product information, which previously needed to be communicated during a single television spot (think phone numbers, store locations, etc.). Relieved of that burden, advertisers’ main objective has now become piquing consumers’ interest enough to get them onto their handheld devices and investigating further.

Here Teixeira discusses why companies will pay $4.5 million for 30 seconds of airtime, which ads work the best, and what makes the Patriots/Seahawks Super Bowl unique.

Why do companies choose to invest in Super Bowl ads, given the extraordinary cost and the high potential for audience distraction?

Thales Teixeira:It’s a lot about measurement and reach. This year’s game is going to reach 120 million people, so it represents one of very few instances where advertisers can get access to so many people at the same time, particularly in a live situation in which they know exactly when consumers are watching their ads. That used to be the norm for television two decades ago, but with streaming and DVR devices, advertisers have a harder time understanding who is watching and when. Intensity is also a factor, as there is the hope that people’s passions for their team and the game will spill over to their intensity in watching and sharing the advertisements.

Why do many advertisers release their ads beforehand, sometimes in full? Does that negate any of their impact?

TT:Ads have become so much more expensive in the last decade, increasing three times faster than inflation every year. For that reason, advertisers must maximize their impact and have elevated their expectations of what those ads should accomplish. One of those new expectations is free publicity. But instead of waiting until an ad runs to get publicity for it, they’ve realized they can generate attention and momentum for it before the Super Bowl even begins. That increases the ad’s exposure and shelf life, and there is real value in getting those fringe benefits from the initial investment. The more people you get commenting, discussing, sharing before and after, the cheaper it becomes to invest in the ad on a per-person basis.

What do advertisers typically gain the most by Super Bowl advertising? And how do they choose between driving web traffic and conversions, or longer term impact like brand building?

TT:All companies benefit from direct response and from building a brand. Those are the two broad goals that over time will create a more valuable company. It’s not clear which works best for what brand, but we can see that certain industries favor one over the other. Beverage companies, for example, favor brand image. They don’t want to just sell more cans of this or that at one given time; they want to create top-of-mind awareness. Other companies are much more focused on direct response; telecom companies, for example, try to steal consumers from each other because theirs is a subscription business. If you can take a customer from your competitor, you can lock them into a two-year contract. In the end, what becomes most important is that companies are choosing and measuring a strategy that is compatible with their goals.

What makes people so willing to share Super Bowl ads, where they are often skeptical of advertising otherwise?

TT:In most of the advertising world, consumers don’t feel they benefit directly from advertising content and often see it as an annoyance. But my understanding is that more people would prefer a Super Bowl game with ads than without. That’s unique, similar to what Google search has done that has made them so successful—rather than detract from the experience, ads on Google enhance the experience and often provide a benefit for the consumer. In the Super Bowl, the ads similarly enhance the consumer experience, and both are perfectly aligned in that they—content and ad—want each other around. That also makes it important for the NFL to ensure that advertisers maintain the quality of their offerings. People share these ads at a much higher rate, a clear indication that they attract attention and have a unique value.

What’s unique about this Super Bowl?

TT:This year, you have a more traditional team in the Patriots, and then the Seahawks, who have really come to prominence only in the last decade. This difference in old and new, West and East, creates the opportunity for selling to a wider audience. So you have to ask yourself: what companies are interested in buying access to this audience? The usual suspects are food and beverage companies (everybody has a mouth), car companies (most of us drive) and telecoms (just about everybody has a phone). What is a newer trend is that there are entire countries that are advertising: travel in Ecuador, fruit from Mexico. Clearly the Super Bowl has become a ticket to get huge access to Americans across the board.


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