10 Feb 2010

Harvard Business School Faculty Comment on Super Bowl Advertisements


BOSTON, Feb. 10, 2010 — Along with more than 100 million other viewers, HBS marketing experts Stephen Greyser and Sunil Gupta were watching the ads along with the game on Super Bowl Sunday - Doritos vs. Denny's, Coke vs. Bud Lite, Dockers vs. Dr. Pepper, and on and on into the night. Once the confetti had cleared, they offered some thoughts on the cascade of commercials.

Professor Stephen Greyser

Stephen A. Greyser
Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus

On Super Bowl Sunday, some 40 brands paid almost $3 million for each 30-second commercial. The "Ad Bowl" competition in the popular and even advertising press is typically judged by "liking." Because the Super Bowl setting is entertainment, it is logical to consider liking the ads to be a major factor in judging them. But the setting is also one of competition, and in my view effectiveness is more important than popularity alone. Studies, including my own, do not show consistent, meaningful correlation, so a disliked commercial can, in fact, be effective. Last Sunday, the kinds of companies that played before the biggest audience in U.S. television history changed little: big brands that want to be part of the big show, companies with new products or models, firms that want to look big (such as dot.coms), and non-traditional entities seeking an audience for their message (e.g., Focus on the Family, the Census Bureau). Even as the mix of companies and brands evolves, advertisers' marketing goals remain basically the same as well. Attention and engagement from target consumers are of primary importance. Attention is a ticket of admission for a brand to be remembered at purchase or pre-purchase time. Creating consumer buzz via an array of contests and giveaways (free pants and breakfasts, for example) is an important recent phenomenon. Say what you will about fragmentation and the impact of the social media, the Super Bowl broadcast continues to be the biggest game in town for advertisers eager to make their mark on millions of viewers.

Click here to read Professor Greyser's full analysis of Super Bowl commercials.

Professor Sunil Gupta

Sunil Gupta
Edward W. Carter Professor of Business Administration

This year's Super Bowl ads were a bit subdued. Yes, Budweiser offered its usual funny spots, and Snickers, Doritos and Dennys provided the occasional laugh, but overall the ads lacked creativity and punch. Even the Tim Tebow ad that created significant buzz before the Super Bowl was quite plain and uninspiring. Perhaps the only bright spot was paystobecurious.com, which intrigued viewers with a very brief commercial and a puzzling question. By the third time my 13-year old son saw this ad, he stopped watching football and started checking the Web site to find the answer to "what rhymes with purple."

About Harvard Business School

Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 250 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and PhD degrees, as well as more than 175 Executive Education programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching, to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The School and its curriculum attract the boldest thinkers and the most collaborative learners who will go on to shape the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.