Super Bowl ads: MSU Denver marketing professor Darrin Duber-Smith on what makes them successful
"Mean" Joe Greene had trouble turning down a Coke in this infamous Super Bowl commercial.
It's on your mind. You can't stop thinking about it. Your blood starts to pump. Your mouth begins to water. And while the buildup lasts for days, the actual live action (from start to finish) only lasts about ten minutes. No, I'm not talking about sex; I'm talking about the Super Bowl, baby. And while that ten minutes of action is glorious, the other three hours and fifty minutes of "America's game" carry some relevancy as well.
To find out what happens during that time, Westword recently sat down with Metropolitan State University of Denver marketing professor Darrin Duber-Smith, who divulges what he believes are the keys to successful Super Bowl advertising and reveals his all-time favorite Super Bowl commercial in the process.
Westword: You mention the prevalence of technology in advertising, especially in regards to the Super Bowl. How has social media changed the game when it comes to advertising?
Darrin Duber-Smith: It's changed almost everything about advertising. It's been steadily building for a while now. Ads used to be about brand awareness, because all you really wanted was to capture the attention and interest of the party. With the Internet we started seeing more direct response ads, but people still weren't going to stop what they were doing and run to their computer. Now everything is direct response. The effectiveness of advertising is now measured by clicks and "likes" and views. In marketing, "measurability" is the Holy Grail because there's so much pressure to account for how you're driving revenue. It's all about measurability and direct-response advertising. These days everyone has tablets and hand-held phones and that's what's really changed the game more than anything.
So where do you see social media taking advertising in the future?
Direct response is what's it's really about. Social media is just one type of direct response. But really it's about driving traffic to websites. And it's not just during the game or after the game, it's before the game, too. Some companies have been running contests for amateurs to develop ads for them. Doritos has done that year after year. So there's buzz that's being generated two weeks to a month before the Super Bowl. Companies are now testing their ads to see if it's even worth it to pay $3.8 million for a Super Bowl ad. That didn't exist before. All we had before was focus groups, but that was very imperfect. It's about making measurability, accountability and response a reality.
You also mention the role celebrities play in advertising. Are there times when celebrities overshadow the message or company they're trying to endorse? And how does that happen?
Michael Jordan is the perfect example. It usually happens because celebrities are used too often as endorsers. Your most popular celebrities can sometimes be the worst people to use. When you're endorsing ten different brands, it gets really hard for the consumer to remember which is which. Peyton Manning as a brand can overshadow the brand of your product. So it happens very often with Manning, Jordan and LeBron James, because it gets confused, cluttered, diluted. Remember Clint Eastwood with Chrysler last year? All I saw was Clint up there. Sure, it drew my interest. But only to Clint, not Chrysler.
What's the most successful type of Super Bowl ad? Is it comedy, drama, sex, celebrity endorsement, or is it something else?
I wouldn't say there's one that stands out. The thing about the Super Bowl is that continuity is important. We kind of look for advertisements from the same companies every year. We look for the Budweiser Clydesdales or the Coca-Cola polar bears. The GoDaddy ad is often one of the most annoying when you talk to people, but it's one of the most memorable because they use sex. And then they say go to GoDaddy.com to see more, so you're expecting to see Danica Patrick naked. They were doing this seven years ago before we had all these hash tags and other direct response stuff, and they've been successful at doing it all this time.
I recently read that first-time advertisers don't usually fair well at the Super Bowl. Why is that?
Because it's a terrible place to introduce your product. It's a great time to mass- market. You're never gonna get this many people in front of the TV at the same time again. Ninety percent of people report they watch the Super Bowl with other people in the room. The more noise there is, the less likely they are to receive your message, which means you're wasting your money. If 90 percent of people are partying during the Super Bowl, is their attention really going to be on the ad? Attracting attention right away through sex and celebrities and other wild things is one thing; keeping your interest after that is a whole different story.
So it's probably a really bad idea for smaller companies to go all in for a first-time Super Bowl ad, right?
Let me give you a great example of a failure like this, although it wasn't the Super Bowl: It was the final episode of Seinfeld. Lots of people watched that. It was a big one -- just like the Super Bowl. It was a great time to mass-market. Back in the day when the natural-products industry was just getting going, there was a company called Gardenburger that made veggie burgers. What Gardenburger did was spent a half million dollars, which was their entire marketing budget, on one thirty-second spot. What happened was the meatless category rose 30 percent after Seinfeld. The problem: Nobody just bought Gardenburger. Nobody just remembered Gardenburger. The whole category rose, so essentially Gardenburger did some marketing for everyone else. And the category dropped back down to normal after six weeks because there wasn't any continuity.
What advertiser consistently produces the best Super Bowl commercials?
I think the number of commercials is important. Budweiser is up there. I've found the least effective ads to be from car companies. Up until a few years ago when Volkswagen did that little Darth Vader kid, car ads were consistently bad. Let me just say this: That was the best car ad I've seen, that Darth Vader one. But in general, car ads are all the same. They're all about a minute long, which costs them $5 million dollars, and they just show the car driving around, driving around, driving around. The Super Bowl is not a good time to do that. What made that Volkswagen commercial genius was not only the cuteness and creativeness of a little Darth Vader, but the fact they interviewed that kid the next day and it went viral.
Are there specific time slots worth more than others?
Yes. Super Bowl ads in the first quarter are worth more than they are in the fourth quarter because people tend to flake off, especially around halftime. Those first few ads are the ones most people are gonna see because everyone's attention is on the game when they first sit down. This makes the type of advertising you do before the Super Bowl that much more important.
What's your favorite Super Bowl commercial of all time?
Do you remember three or four years ago when Miller Lite did the one-second High Life spot? It's one you will never see again. That was it. That was the one everybody was talking about the next day. Budweiser spent something like $30 million on ads for the Super Bowl and High Life must have spent $100,000 and the next day all anybody could talk about was High Life. That was the first time I've ever seen a one-second ad. I don't know exactly what they paid for it, but I know you're never gonna see it again because the big beer companies won't allow it. You wanna talk about the most cost-effective ad in the Super Bowl? That was it. The reason it was effective is because Miller then spent years using that person as a spokes-character. It all goes back to continuity.
In addition to teaching at MSU Denver, Duber-Smith also finds time to blog about contemporary marketing for Cengage Learning. You can find his musings and analysis here.
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