6th of February 2020

By Professor Rachel Kennedy Associate Director (Product Development) Ehrenberg-Bass Institute
Published by LinkedIn See original article

Is the Super Bowl a good media buy for your advertising?

This year Jeep and others again spent big on Super Bowl advertising.  Here marketing scientist Professor Rachel Kennedy takes a quick look at some of the publicly available numbers to critique the Super Bowl from a brand growth perspective.

Image from Jeep’s Super Bowl 2020 ad (CNBC, 2020)


It is being reported that it cost as much as $5.6 million to advertise for 30 seconds in this years’ Super Bowl. At around ~$186,000 per second, that sounds like a crazy expensive cost for placing an ad… but how should marketers evaluate it?

Fox has reported an overall digital, broadcast, and subscription audience of 102 million to the game.  Such broad reach and the opportunity to expose so many potential buyers to your advertising, so quickly, is valuable for many brands.  With the fragmentation in the media world, such media opportunities are rare and valuable to brands who have lots of potential buyers, both those defending share and especially to those seeking growth.

Rather than focusing on the total cost or the per second cost, a key number that matters is the unique reach cost.  These numbers are not widely reported but should be common for media decision-makers to consider.  Clearly not all ad spots will get the same numbers and there is a big requirement on having great copy to get the best numbers once the online and social figures are included (along with further media spend) however there is enough historic data as a starting point.

Clearly not all 102 million people who watched the game (about a third of the US population) will see all the ads.  There are messages to send, food to be served, toilet breaks to have and other things for the audience to attend to.  However, many of them will see the ads and thousands of others will see them online or via social feeds after the game, especially the best ads. Adage with iSpot.tv shared TV ad impressions for the top ten Super Bowl ads.  If we use those as a quick read on value (impressions are NOT reach but we are looking at one game), we see that the top 10 ads typically got ~70,000,000 tv impressions, sometimes with hundreds of thousands more online and via social. The winners ranged from some ~17 to 280 million additional views/impressions (NB unfortunately this is not unique reach – these are the numbers as an industry we need to get to). Doing a back of a serviette calculation suggests the winners were potentially paying around 2-3 cents a person.  That is, they are getting vast, fast cost-effective reach and the nature of the game means it attracts many of the hard to reach people (e.g. light media users).

There are cheaper per person media buys.  Television can regularly cost 1-5 cents per impression (with lots of variation across buys and markets), but to reach 100 people almost always means paying for multiple exposures for some people (heavier media users) so the average cost per consumer rises.  This is especially true if the advertiser needs to reach a population quickly.

Clearly media decision makers need to use actual costs and reach numbers to do their calculations from before determine if the Super Bowl or any other big event is really is a good buy.  For many it will also be out of their reach given budget constraints.  Even those who might be able to afford a spot need to consider what else might deliver better value.  As well as reach, continuity of advertising to nudge buyers across the whole year also matters so spending your whole budget in one game may not make sense.  But for big brands with the budget the Super Bowl does offer something special with its fast and vast reach.


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