Super Bowl Ads: Why They’re Still Relevant, But The Way Marketers Evaluate Them Isn’t 

Exactly how high of a price do we place on the impact of Super Bowl advertising on our cultural fabric?

Shravya Kaparthi
Director, Analytics and Decision Sciences RAPP

Every first Sunday of February, my social feed fills up with fellow marketers having serious conversations about the relevance of Super Bowl advertising. This year has been no exception, especially with reports of the game having brought in its lowest ratings in a decade’s time!

In my opinion, doing the math, dissecting metrics, debating the true value of “social conversations” and indulging in so much analysis that I call it “analysis paralysis,” all to prove whether $5.25Mn+ per spot is worth the spend, or not, is important dialogue. But we need to think beyond the obvious.

What’s the Brand’s Marketing Goal?

Yes, measuring marketing ROI and effectiveness are indeed important, of course! As a data person, that’s my bread and butter.  And the sheer number of conversations I’ve seen around the ROI for Super Bowl advertising, shows how our industry leans on these metrics. But Super Bowl advertising is a different pop-cultural phenomenon altogether. It’s not just about reaching over 100M viewers – it’s   about being a part of the largest advertising platform ever and creating conversations beyond TV – from teasers, to online pre-releases to social war-rooms and sentiment analysis! Considering all these manifestations of “value,” should brand managers still focus primarily on ROI n the conventional sense? I think the answer is “No.”

When a newspaper brand like Washington Post, not a typical ad spender, wants to convey a powerful message about Democracy and knowledge, could they have found a better platform? Were the out of -home, innovative campaigns, like billboards by Pepsi and transportation advertising by SunTrust or the Broadway idea by Skittles, more cost effective than traditional TV spots during the game? Or were these brands simply trying to reach consumers differently?  Coke, for example, has historically tried to own the conversation around diversity, inclusion and togetherness during the Super Bowl. This year they followed suit, only with an ad before the national anthem, not during the game. As a result, they spent much less, while still conveying a clear message. Did their priorities change? What’s their master plan for 2019? Those are the questions we should be asking when we evaluate the marketing we saw during and surrounding the big game. Unless we know, as data-driven marketers, the brands’ fundamental objectives, ad spends and media budget planning, we cannot evaluate such ad spends. And based on a brand’s objectives, metrics and performance are relative. It is not fair to evaluate any strategy without knowing their strategic intent.

The Buzz Factor

Having said that, exactly how high of a price do we place on the impact of Super Bowl advertising on our cultural fabric? Within the changing social norms and evolving cultural ideologies of this country, there are very few events that remain relevant and prominent in the American pop culture ethos – I’d say that the Super Bowl is still at the top of this list. Keeping this in mind, I might argue that $5.25M for 30 seconds seems fair. I’m a true believer in market-demand-based pricing, and clearly, if all the spots got sold out, this means more than enough brands were willing to buy media at that elevated price tag. Despite the fact that this platform, in comparison to the advancements we’ve seen across the board in marketing elsewhere, seems antiquated, it’s still in high demand. Thanks to American culture.

When I moved to the US four years ago, I was told that one of the important steps to take toward getting inducted into “American culture” is following football, and particularly, taking part in the Super Bowl tradition that so many build memories around. As a marketer, it’s been interesting for me to learn how Super Bowl advertising has always been a part of that tradition – spectators looking forward to the ads, scrutinizing them, expressing strong points of view. Thanks to social amplification in the recent past, this has only grown.  A vast majority of viewers love to indulge in these special ads as pure entertainment, which is why grand celebrities, humor and dramatic content have been winning ingredients for these high-budget spots. Brands and advertising agencies bring out their best in preparation.

If a brand has designated awareness and buzz as top objectives, and wants to be a part of this American tradition, then a spot at the Super Bowl might fit the bill. The price tag is just significantly steeper – so, like any other media platform, this decision has to be evaluated. And, after weighing the pros and cons against their focal objectives, if a brand decides to spend that kind of money – they might as well do a good job of it. There is no room for bad or ‘insensitive’ advertising when millions of people are watching. If a brand missteps, it certainly won’t drum up the awareness it was seeking.

Explore Your Options

It’s critical to recognize and appreciate that not every brand needs to be on every platform – and each could use the same platform differently. The agenda of those brands investing in big-budget advertising to win over investors and stock markets, and create brand awareness, is very different from brands looking to invest in customer experience. In our evolving, super-fragmented, data-driven, digitized marketing world – where personalization, on-demand content and opt-in strategies are driving the new-age conversations – conventional advertising platforms like the Super Bowl definitely still continue to get our attention. But what after that? This is the best time for us marketers to pause and see what we can learn, how we can understand metrics and re-evaluate measurement.


  1. Metrics aren’t free. Do not measure, unless it has an impact on our actions/decisions, as marketers
  2. Before measuring, define the metrics and what success means within that particular context.
  3. Acknowledge that not all metrics are accurate and relevant – what works for one need not work for others.  

And some have begun to reevaluate. Weighing the objectives, metrics, potential land-mines are the million-dollar-ideas of the future. Interestingly, several brands have started to invest in Super Bowl buzz in an unconventional manner.  They use from social hashtags, to complementary on-the-ground events, to second-screen (mobile advertising) during the game to pull their audience deeper into their world by using the Super bowl ad as just the starting point. I think this will be the way of the future.

Why? Well, honestly, what else could a brand do with $5M? Well, for starters, it could reach millions of people across social media platforms, get billions of impressions on Instagram, build a variety of new lens options on Snapchat, build simple mobile app features, craft new social games – the list goes on. And these ideas are all ultimately more engaging than a TV spot, alone – but still leverage the clout and visibility of the Super Bowl.

It is imperative to understand (and eventually balance) the equation of Awareness vs Action. Even under the spotlight of the Super Bowl, brand awareness is not the same as action. As marketers, if we want to truly influence the end consumer’s decisions, then we should think about their actions. Awareness is important, but not sufficient anymore. Mission critical: brands must think about influencing the customer journey, playing a role around their needs and expectations and investing in a solid consumer experience. Will a brand stand the test of time if it can afford a Super Bowl ad spot but, cannot live up to product or service expectations? As marketers, we owe those conversations to ourselves and to our clients, don’t we?