The Most Important Thing About Super Bowl Advertising Isn’t the Ad

By Larry DeGaris, Executive Director, Medill Spiegel Research Center

The cost of airing a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl has continued to spiral upward over decades. This year, a 30-second ad cost about $7 million to air. That means advertisers need to leverage the ad with other marketing tactics to make it pay off. For many brands, that means creating earned and paid media buzz connected to the ad. But there’s also a lot of action in-store and at the cash register. Super Bowl marketing campaigns are won before the game starts.

A Celebration of Snacks

More people in the US watch the Super Bowl than celebrate Halloween or Father’s Day (sorry, Dad!), and the participation rate is not far behind Easter and Mother’s Day. Halloween and Easter are all about candy. The Super Bowl is one of the few national holidays/events that cuts across almost all demographic groups. About 5% of people say that fun food prepared for the Game is important. They’re more interested in the game and spending time with friends/family than the food. However, 80% of the $17 billion spent for the day is on food and beverages.

The Super Bowl Spread

The increase in e-commerce makes it difficult for brands to gain new buyers. Online purchases are to be repeat purchases of familiar brands. That, combined with the continued drift toward private labels, can make it difficult for brands to gain new brand and category buyers. The spread at Super Bowl parties is an opportunity. Hosts want to make sure guests have something they like, and people will likely try something new at a Super Bowl party.

The Red Zone

The ads entertain, but in-store displays get brands over the goal line. In-store displays won’t win many awards at Cannes, but they sell a lot of cases. Here’s the thing. In-store displays for snacks for the biggest retail week of the year should win awards. Or at least they deserve to. During the run-up to the Super Bowl, I stopped at a Publix in Florida and snapped a shot of a Bud Light display. It does the job, but barely. It’s a tailgate. It’s the Super Bowl, not college football. Nobody tailgates for the Super Bowl. The official sponsorship and Super Bowl logo help, but it’s nowhere near the creative level of Super Bowl advertising. In-store retail is too important a piece not to fit with the other campaign components.

Retail Theater—Digital Out-Of-Home and the In-Store Funnel

People associate Super Bowl advertising with entertainment. So, entertain them. The growth of in-store digital capabilities will allow brands to raise the bar on customer experience, from simply pulling a bag of chips off the display to an enjoyable and memorable experience. What shoppers see as they enter the store could start a story that continues through the point of purchase.

Non-endemic brands should join the party—A Super Bowl every month!

If Super Bowl ads are intended to entertain, then the customer experience applies to brands outside of snacks and beverages. The number of potential impressions is impressive. The number of unique monthly visitors to Walmart is about double the Super Bowl audience.

Integration and the Customer Experience

Sure, there are a lot of eyeballs at Walmart. The challenges will be integrating in-store advertising with a) the other communications in the broader Super Bowl campaign and, more importantly, b) the customer experience. Simply slapping monitors across the store and running irrelevant, annoying ads won’t work. The industry needs a test-and-learn culture to guide innovations.

As director of the Medill Retail Analytic Council, Frank Mulhern, says, “Marketers should see the Super Bowl, and similar holiday events, as opportunities to create enthusiasm around brands that span advertising, promotion, and in-store into a coordinated ecosystem.”

I’m already looking forward to next year’s game and shopping for it!

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