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Super Bowl 2019 Advertising Effectiveness

Effectiveness scores for this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads were higher than for any of the last six years.

Editor’s Note: It has become almost a cliche that ads for the Super Bowl are anticipated as strongly as the game itself.  Ever since the Apple “1984” ad for the launch of the Macintosh computer, advertisers have tried to put forth their best work for the Super Bowl, the most heavily watched TV event of the year.  This year’s crop of ads seemed to work better than usual, as Michael Wolfe discusses in this well thought out article.  Michael draws out some important lessons advertisers need to consider for future Super Bowl ads regarding age and gender.

Super-Bowl 2019 Advertising Effectiveness

The 2019 Super Bowl repeated the 2018 Super Bowl’s declining trend in audience viewership.  Total audience viewership was just 98.2 million, a low-water mark for this decade and the first time it has delivered just under 100 million eyeballs in the past ten years.  A low scoring and defensive game between the Rams & Patriots has many calling it unusually boring; and this probably affected the low viewership numbers.

Still, with a cost per 30 second spot at a record $5.3 million, Super Bowl advertising is not getting any cheaper.  In fact, the cost for reaching 1 million views is now over $53 thousand and growing at almost a +10 percent rate.

 

Despite the rising costs of Super-Bowl ads, there has never been an event where air-time did not sell out.  That is because, with about 100 million viewers per year, it delivers at least 8 times more audience than any other TV event!

The purpose of this paper is to review advertising performance data and to update insights from last year’s Super Bowl review.   Like before, our data source is from Advertising Benchmark Index(aka, ABX).  This is from a survey covering 56 Super Bowl ads.  It used forced ad exposure with a sample of 150 respondents for each tested ad.  ABX’s copy test formula is different than other methods which heavily rely on an ad’s likeability, entertainment value and reputation scores.  The key criteria of the ABX system is:

  1. Ad branding (Can viewer correctly name the brand advertised?)
  2. Perceived ad relevance
  3. Brand reputation scores among ad viewers
  4. Ad Message recall, knowledge and understanding
  5. Ad engagement. As a result of seeing the ad, did the viewer do something positive towards the brand such as visit the website or store, engage in WOM, contact the company, recommend the brand or were they motivated to buy?

The chart below shows trends in overall Super Bowl ad copy effectiveness over the current & past six years.  The average 107 score in 2019 was the highest over this time.  By contrast, after Nielsen audience numbers ranged between 110 – 114 million, this year’s ratings dropped to a low of just 98.2 million.

Individual Ad Effectiveness Scores

The table below shows ABX’s top 10 Super Bowl ads in 2019.  As you can see from the diagnostic data, these ads were diverse and not overly concentrated in one or two industries like past years.   Across the Top 20 ads, Food & Snack brands occurred most, followed by Automotive, Entertainment-Media and Footwear.  Two of the brands, Weathertech & Sketchers, were repeats from 2018.  For the first time in the past 6 years, there were no Budweiser brands in the top 10; and Coca-Cola, a perennial Super Bowl advertiser, did not participate this year.

Super Bowl ads, as we have shown before, tend to score very high on measures of ad likeability, brand reputation and entertainment value/popularity (eg., like to see ad again);  but they fall short on measures of ad branding, message clarity and ad relevance. Super Bowl ads play more at the upper part of the purchase funnel, such as awareness, and not so much at the lower parts, which are closer to the purchase decision. If the advertiser is most interested in getting viewers to act or short-term ROI,   Super Bowl ads are probably not a good investment. (Clips to these 10 ads are on the links at the end of this article)

When we look at all 56 Super Bowl ad copy scores, as shown below, we see a very wide range of effectiveness scores.  The bottom-five ads, in terms of ad-effectiveness scores, were the ads from Girls, Inc., Olay, Burger King, Bumble & Expensify.  All of these ads showed weak brand recognition, message clarity, likeability and were all rated significantly lower by females than their male counter parts (more on male-female differences below).

Does a Strong Super-Bowl Ad Have a Positive Halo Impact on a Brand’s Ad Performance for Other Parts of the Year?

As shown from the chart below.  In this chart we tabulated how the Top 15 ads from 2018 perform relative to periods before and after the 2018 Super-Bowl.  While there is no indication that a strong Super-Bowl ad lifts overall brand ad effectiveness following the Super-Bowl, we do see some higher purchase-intent and brand recommendation ad scores for the top Super Bowl ads for the balance of the year. To this end, while not conclusive, this does seem to show some positive signs that producing a strong Super Bowl ad could have some positive effects on a brand’s ongoing advertising performance.

Is Super-Bowl Advertising Better Than Advertising During Other Times of the Year?

When we look across our prior Super-Bowl ad reviews from 2017 and 2018, the evidence did not really show that Super-Bowl ads significantly out-perform ads during other parts of the year, across most performance and engagement measures.   However, for Super-Bowl 2019, we did see overall ad effectiveness of Super-Bowl ads about 5% higher than ad performance during other parts of the of the prior year of advertising for these brands.   Across other metrics, we also see that Super-Bowl advertising as “significantly stronger” on measures related to viewers “willingness-to-recommend the brand”, “brand reputation” and in the ads’ ability to drive “positive word-of-mouth”.   In addition, as usual, Super-Bowl ads also scored much higher on measures of entertainment value and ad likeability.

Despite the lower and disappointing audience numbers for Super Bowl 2019, the effectiveness of ads was much better than in 2018;  and they were also better than the prior six Super-Bowls.

 

 

Who Are Most Responsive to Super Bowl Ads?

Age

When we look at copy score ratings across the age-generations, we see, similar to last year, that the younger Millennial (18-34) viewer showed the highest overall ad effectiveness, while the older Baby Boomer(55+) scoring significantly lower than the other age groups.  As agencies continue to focus their ad messaging and creative toward Millennials, this is no longer a surprise.   However, since Baby Boomers are the largest, in terms of audience numbers, this represents a major weakness and lost opportunity for Super-Bowl advertisers.

 

Gender

Much was made before the Super Bowl that advertisers were going to be more gender conscious & appealing to women viewers.  The results, in the chart below, show the best performing ads appealed equally to both men and women.  However, as we go from best to worst, we see that effectiveness declined among both men and women, but tended to decline at a steeper rate among women.  In fact, as shown on the chart below, the gap between men and women was actually highest among the lowest performing Super Bowl ads.

 

Super Bowl Advertising: Issues and Directions Going Forward

The 2019 Super-Bowl

  1. Despite having the lowest audience numbers in the past decade, the 2019 Super Bowl turned out the best advertising, in terms of overall effectiveness scores, than was found over the past 6 Super-Bowls.
  2. Producing a winning Super-Bowl ad can have positive spill-over, affecting ad performance across the year. Although the evidence of this is not conclusive, Post-Super-Bowl advertising, among the top ad performers, shows ads which drive higher brand recommendation and purchase intent.
  3. It is no longer a surprise that Super-Bowl ads perform better among the Millennial (18-34) age cohort. This is probably by design.  Nevertheless, Super-Bowl ads perform significantly worse among Baby Boomers (55+).  The fact that these Baby Boomers represent the largest of the 3 Super-Bowl audiences means that this advertising is likely missing the opportunity to impact this larger group for the better of the advertiser’s business.
  4. Given that the best performing ads did well among both men and women, and that the worst turned women off even more than men, efforts this year to be more “gender balanced” need to be reinforced even more in the future.
  5. Like past analyses of Super-Bowl advertising, the 2019 Super-Bowl ads were strong on entertainment value, brand reputation, ad likeability and generating positive word-of-mouth. This perhaps underscores that, to some extent, Super-Bowl advertising is a popularity contest.  Nevertheless, Super-Bowl is the only TV event that delivers 100 million viewers.  No other TV event comes anywhere close to that and this is will, most likely, continue to do so.
  6. Over the past 2 years, Super-Bowl viewers have shrunk by 12 percent. While there might have been logical explanations for each year’s decline, a continuation of this trend should concern the NFL and all advertisers.

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