The Super Bowl Is Not the Only Big Advertising Game in Town
The Super Bowl has long been considered the premier event for television advertising. Despite the high costs of advertising on the Super Bowl, many companies think it is well worth the money. They point out that the big game is usually the most watched program of the year and delivers more than 100 million viewers. Advertisers also note that the Super Bowl is one occasion where as much attention is paid to the commercials as to the program. Many consumers actually wait to see the new ads that often debut during the telecast, and the spots often receive a considerable amount of hype and publicity prior to as well as after the game.
While the Super Bowl remains the showcase for advertising, many companies are opting for other alternatives rather than paying more than $2 million to run a 30-second ad on the big game. Marketing executives are running the numbers and concluding that there are more cost-effective alternatives to television's highest-rated, but also highest-priced, event. Some of the largest advertisers are opting for other major telecasts such as the Academy Awards, the Grammies,the Golden Globes, and other events that deliver younger, more sophisticated viewers for less money. Others are choosing to spread their media budgets over long-term commitments instead of spending them on an expensive one-night stand. For example, Electronic Data Systems (EDS) launched its popular "Cat Herder" commercial on the 2000 Super Bowl and followed with the "Running of the Squirrels" spot on the 2001 game. However, EDS decided to pass on the 2002 Super Bowl and directed its agency to create a series of commercials that aired 58 times over the 17 days of the Winter Olympics. An EDS executive noted: "The Olympic Games provide 17 days to sell the EDS story, and give us a better chance to make an impact."
There is also a growing sentiment that the Super Bowl has turned into an expensive beauty pageant for big agencies that want to see their creative work on display rather than being a bona fide opportunity for launching new products. The chairman of Sterling Group, an independent branding firm, notes: "The Super Bowl has been the altar of branding and every body prayed to the Super Bowl god." However, many companies are cutting back on their new product launches or are not launching them during the time period that coincides with the game. In addition, some companies that have long been Super Bowl advertisers are being run by new CEOs or marketing executives who are less interested than their predecessors in advertising on the big game and are looking at other high-profile media events.
The annual event that has become one of the most popular alternatives to the Super Bowl among major advertisers is the Academy Awards show, which airs in late March or early April. The show is traditionally among the most watched events on television, attracting more than 40 million viewers, and the going rate for a 30-second spot has been around $1.1 million to $1.4 million in recent years. Media buyers point out that the Academy Awards program is a good opportunity to attract women viewers, which has earned it the sobriquet "Super Bowl for Women." Many marketers also like to be a part of the excitement and pageantry that surrounds the event. For example, JCPenney's director of strategic marketing has stated that the Academy Awards event "is a place where fashion, culture and style converge and we want to be part of that." The Grammy Awards program is another annual event that has become popular among advertisers, particularly those trying to reach a younger audience.
While a number of marketers are opting for these alternative events to showcase their ads, others are investing their marketing budgets in events that give them several weeks or even months of exposure. For example, Cingular Wireless gained nationwide recognition by running four spots on the 2001 Super Bowl but passed on the 2002 game in favor of events that would give it exposure and impact over a longer term, such as NASCAR racing and tie-ins with movies such as Spider Man. The company's vice president of advertising and communications noted: "We are trying to invest our money in those things that give us several weeks—if not months—of mileage."
The Super Bowl is likely to remain advertising's premier event, particularly for companies with large bud
gets that are willing to spend millions for a 30-second spot. Moreover, National Football League marketing executives have also been making some defensive moves to broaden the game's appeal and to allow more companies to participate in the hoopla surrounding the game. To attract younger viewers, the Super Bowl's half-time show has featured popular rock groups such as U2, whose music has been included in the NFL's promotional ads. The league is also creating new opportunities for advertisers that choose not to pay television's highest commercial prices, such as those for Friday or Saturday televised events, including con certs and pregame shows. The networks have also produced special shows that air on Super Bowl weekend. For example, in 2002 CBS created a special program, which aired the night before the big game, to provide advertisers with an opportunity to be part of the Super Bowl hype. You guessed it: The show was a special look back at the best Super Bowl ads of all time.
Sources: Vanessa O'Connell,"Super Bowl Gets Competition," The Wall Street Journal, Jan.28,2002,pp. Bl,3; Suzanne Varan ica,"Ad Time for Academy Awards Is Sold Out," The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 7,2002, p. B8.
expensive TV program of all, the Super Bowl, and how its high cost is causing some advertisers to look for alternatives to advertising on the big game.
Lack of Selectivity Some selectivity is available in television through variations in programs and cable TV. But advertisers who are seeking a very specific, often small, target audience find the coverage of TV often extends beyond their market, reducing its cost effectiveness (as discussed in Chapter 10). Geographic selectivity can be a problem for local advertisers such as retailers, since a station bases its rates on the total market area it reaches. For example, stations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, reach viewers in western and central Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia, and even parts of Maryland. The small company whose market is limited to the immediate Pittsburgh area may find TV an inefficient media buy, since the stations cover a larger geographic area than the merchant's trade area.
Audience selectivity is improving as advertisers target certain groups of consumers through the type of program or day and/or time when they choose to advertise. However, TV still does not offer as much audience selectivity as radio, magazines, newspapers, or direct mail for reaching precise segments of the market.
Fleeting Message TV commercials usually last only 30 seconds or less and leave nothing tangible for the viewer to examine or consider. Commercials have become shorter and shorter as the demand for a limited amount of broadcast time has intensified and advertisers try to get more impressions from their media budgets. Thirty-second commercials became the norm in the mid-1970s, and in September 1986, the three major networks began accepting 15-second spots across their full schedules (except during children's viewing time). Since 1987, these shorter spots have been accounting for about a third of all network commercials and 9 percent of nonnetwork commercial activity. Thirty-second spots remain the dominant commercial length, accounting for nearly 60 percent of network spots and over 80 percent of nonnetwork ads.7
An important factor in the decline in commercial length has been the spiraling inflation in media costs over the past decade. With the average cost of a prime-time spot reaching over $100,000, many advertisers see shorter commercials as the only way to keep their media costs in line. A 15-second spot typically sells for half the price of a 30-second spot. By using 15- or even 10-second commercials, advertisers think they can run additional spots to reinforce the message or reach a larger audience. Many advertisers believe shorter commercials can deliver a message just as effectively as longer spots for much less money.
Several years ago, many advertising people predicted 15-second spots would become the dominant commercial unit. However, the growth in the use of 15-second commercials peaked at 38 percent in 1989 and has recently declined to around 32 percent. The decline may be due to several factors, including creative considerations, lower prices for network time, and a desire by the networks to restrict clutter.8
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