Would you buy something based on a Super Bowl ad?

On Super Bowl Sunday every year, much of America tunes in to watch the big game. It’s become a major partying event: for the past five years, on average, 11 million viewers watched the Super Bowl away from their homes — and the trend is growing.

But for many viewers, the game and halftime show is less important and entertaining than the commercials.

And for that reason, commercial airtime during the games is among the most highly valued. For many years, viewers have watched the Super Bowl as much for the commercials as for the ultimate football championship for the year. This year, advertisers are being charged between $4.8 million and $5 million for 30-second spots on CBS during the Super Bowl.

Some of the most iconic commercials have aired for the first (and sometimes only) time during the Super Bowl, such as:

“Mean” Joe Greene (1979)

Apple’s Macintosh (1984)

McDonald’s’ Larry Bird vs. Michael Jordan (1993)

The Budweiser Frogs (1995)

Snickers’ Betty White tackle (2010)

Volkswagen’s “The Force” (2011)

Snickers’ “Brady Bunch” reboot (2015)

Of course, there have been a number of really bad commercials during the Super Bowl as well.

These generally have been commercials that were poorly put together, employed offensive stereotypes or racist messages, or carried images of suffering and death — not what Super Bowl viewers (or anyone else) care to see.

While some of the most sophisticated special effects appear in Super Bowl commercials, other commercials are noted for simplicity and sensitivity. This year, perhaps in response to the backlash against the Oscars, the commercials will include persons from a variety of ethnicities, age ranges, and sexual orientations.

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Curiously, Super Bowl commercials don’t seem to have much “effectiveness”; that is, they don’t result in bigger bottom lines for their advertisers. According to a study by Genesis Media, “nearly 90 percent of respondents said that they were unlikely to buy something tied to a Super Bowl ad; and roughly 75 percent of respondents said they couldn’t remember ads from last year.” In 2014, a study determined that 80 percent of the ads run during the 2012 and 2013 Super Bowls didn’t result in increased sales volume for the advertisers.

One of the reasons may be that in most Super Bowl commercials, emphasis is placed on the “creativity” of the ad’s message or special effects, rather than the brand or product. Another reason, according to the Genesis Media study, is that 33 percent of viewers spend commercial breaks using their mobile devices rather than watching television.

Super Bowl commercials seem to be “effective” when the products involved are new and the advertisers are not well known — even when they are offensive, such as the GoDaddy ads that ran between 2005 and 2012. According to marketing website Marketing Land, “Sleazy though they were, GoDaddy’s several years of Super Bowl advertising helped establish massive awareness for the company’s brand. In fact it’s very hard for the public to name another domain registrar. And last year Super Bowl ads helped to start changing the company’s image.”

Which is exactly what every company that advertises during the Super Bowl is out to do.

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

  • MarkKelling

    While a television ad might make me aware of a product, no ad will make me buy the product. First, I have to have a need for it. Just because the ad tells me I am a hopeless loser without this product does not create a need for it. Second, there are usually many alternate products that can fulfill my need better and less expensively than many of the items being heavily advertised. So, no, those ads during the Super Bowl are nothing but entertainment to me and will not cause me to buy anything.

  • AJPeabody

    I am astounded that the local hospital megasystem where I live is reported to have bought a commercial on the Super Bowl. I bet there a lot better things for hospitals to spend $5,000,000.00 on. And the chance that the ad will make peiople go to the hospital is zilch.

  • MarkKelling

    It is unfortunate that most hospitals no longer operate as charities but are in fact for-profit corporations. The $5 million will represent a very nice tax write off for them.

  • AJPeabody

    So would hiring more physical therapists. Or treating poor people for free. Or repaving that deteriorated parking lot. Or . . .

  • MarkKelling

    I agree with you completely.

  • Regina Litman

    As a non-eater of nuts, I would never buy Snickers. Snickers are bigger sellers than Milky Ways, which I love. Why does Mars continue to advertise Snickers, which doesn’t need more sales, than Milky Ways, which do, during the Super Bowl? Maybe the answer is in this article – they’re not really after more sales with these ads.

  • judyserienagy

    A company like Coke spending billions for an ad on a Super Bowl broadcast makes about as much sense as putting their name on a sporting venue. The company pays mega bucks and gets very little in return. “There’s really no reason for it, it’s just the way we do things”. Seeing the Mean Joe Green ad again brought tears to my eyes, tho; thanks Jennifer.

  • Fishplate

    I haven’t even seen a Super Bowl(tm) ad in 20 years. No wonder they aren’t effective.

  • CycleAZLindyB

    The Super Bowl ads last night weren’t nearly as good as in the past. There were a few really good ones, like the psa against drunk driving with Helen Mirren. The only product advertised last night that I would possibly buy would be Death Wish Coffee. They are a small company who won an ad from Intuit and got their product out there. I imagine they’ll be crazy busy with internet orders!!

  • Stuart Murray

    I might buy another dachshund. You can never have enough of them.

  • redragtopstl

    I always wonder about hospitals advertising, period.
    If I need to enter a hospital for treatment, that decision is made by the doctor who is treating me. And if my doctor has admitting privileges at Hospital X, but not at Hospital Y, I’m going to Hospital X — no matter how many TV ads Hospital Y runs.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Advertising doesn’t work that way, particularly not ultra-expensive advertising like the Super Bowl. Snickers are the top-selling candy bar in the world and have been in a dogfight with M&Ms for that title for years, so for the investment a Super Bowl ad costs they’re obviously going to go with their headliner product and not some lesser offering. Yes, Milky Ways need more sales but not at the cost of a Super Bowl ad. That’s the same reason car companies don’t do lavish ad campaigns around models that are struggling. Instead they go with their sales leaders or brand new offerings they want to make into sales leaders.

  • E_Woman

    Local ads don’t cost $5,000,000. Not sure how expensive they are but considerably less than national ones.

  • Carchar

    Thank you, Super Bowl Sunday. My husband and I had to get to Boston by today, Monday, but the coming winter storm caused us to hit the road from NY on Sunday. We have never had so little traffic on this run. This could start a tradition!

  • lvswhippets

    I loved the one for Doritos with the dogs, but I wouldn’t buy Doritos I don’t watch football but saw the ad on internet. Those boys are local & attended a local photography school. Hurray for Brooks & the 3 graduates from same.,

  • LonnieC

    That’s a hospital I would really have to question going to if I were in need (assuming I had any choice). It’s apparently focused on the wrong bottom line (profits instead of cures). Wow! it seems that the medical facilities (hospitals, medical practice buildings, offices, etc.), are the entities building the newest, biggest, most expensive facilities. Sadly, that seems to be where a major part of our health care dollars go.

  • LonnieC

    I think they’re going for the name recognition. After all, they’re just selling colored/flavored water – nothing very unique. Name recognition is the name of the advertising game.

  • LonnieC

    Those are our local guys. And boy, were they excited when they won! They were also flown out with 50 friends to see the game, in a reserved skybox. Nice.

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