Are Brands Losing Faith in the Super Bowl?

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This Sunday the Atlanta Falcons meet the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51. It’s one of the most-watched sporting events in the world (115 million Americans tuned in last year) and a place for brands to wheel out their most impressive, splashy TV commercials.

According to Variety, Fox (the broadcaster that owns the rights to the match this year) is charging from $5m to $5.5m for each 30-second commercial spot during the Super Bowl broadcast. For comparison, a similar slot during a really popular primetime show in the US, such as American Idol, costs around $500,000.

But this year a number of regular Super Bowl brands have decided to sit out the game. Doritos, which has advertised for the past 10 straight years, has declined to buy any time in the Super Bowl, Ad Age reported back in December. This is especially significant given the popularity of Doritos’ Super Bowl ads, which have claimed the top spot in Ace Metrix ranking of the top Super Bowl advertisers from 2010-2016.

Heinz’s Super Bowl ad from 2016 was a big hit

It’s not just Doritos. Digiday reported last week that Toyota, Butterfinger and Taco Bell, all Super Bowl regulars, have declined to buy space. Toyota, which has just been usurped as the world’s largest carmaker by VW, says it has no major car launches in the US until spring, so a Super Bowl spot didn’t make sense.

No word why Taco Bell and others have declined this year, but it could be down to the ever-increasing cost, plus the plethora of alternatives to traditional TV advertising that continue to grow in importance each year. Tellingly, Taco Bell has poured huge resources into leveraging social media, with a broad strategy that includes all major social platforms. This insights report cites a 33% engagement rate on Instagram for Taco Bell posts – 33%! – and 251 million views of online video content since 2011.

With declining attention from TV audiences, many of whom watch with a second screen in their hands, and spiralling costs, perhaps it’s not surprising that some brands are pursuing alternative channels. Added to this, if a brand misjudges its Super Bowl commercial, it can be a very costly, and very public failure.

The day following Super Bowl Sunday, expect industry media (and increasingly consumer press, too) to deconstruct the best and worst commercials that aired. Last year, the New Yorker decided this one from AXE was the best, with this spot from Doritos polling highest with members of the public.

The big fails last year? According to most chatter, this putrid attempt to persuade Americans that borrowing money is patriotic, and this one about a man who has taken so many prescription opiates that he’s badly constipated and jealous of a pooping dog (above).

My favourite from last year? So glad you asked. This one, from beer brand Shock Top. Look out for reports on this week’s big winners and losers on Monday morning. Go Falcons.

Nick Taylor

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