Super Bowl Ads: A Big Fumble

'I spent $2.7 million and I didn't even get a lousy T-shirt,' or why you should rethink spending big bucks on a commercial people won't remember a week later

It has been some two months since the big game, and while some recall the New York Giants upset the heavily favored New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, almost no one remembers the commercials—which cost a hefty $2.7 million per 30 seconds.

For the second year in a row, our firm conducted an online survey testing brand and ad recall among a representative sample of 1,500 viewers. The findings are downright depressing. Just one week after the game, average brand recall was an unimpressive 7%, and not one brand was remembered by 50% or more of Super Bowl viewers. Commercial recall (with no brand attached to the description; i.e., you remember there was an ad "for some movie," or there was a commercial with a Charlie Brown blimp) averaged 20%.

The worst showing was for "pure recall," where the respondent remembered both the commercial and the brand it represented. On average, only 4% of viewers could do that. Let's see, you spend $90,000 a second, and 96 people out of a 100 who watch don't remember seeing your message less than a week later. (And obviously far fewer people would remember it today.)

If Not the Super Bowl, Then Where?

The conclusion is inescapable. While advertising during the Super Bowl comes with a certain allure, our research proves it offers a very poor return on investment. Even worse, it is about as far from innovative as you can get. Spending a lot of money to reach as many eyeballs as you can—regardless of whether they are ever going to buy your product? Where's the new thinking there?

O.K., we've persuaded you not to take a Super Bowl ad next year. But where can you get the biggest bang for your innovation buck? Asking the question that way puts you on the right path. Step 1? We need to start by acknowledging we live in the real world, a place where our bosses and budgets require us to justify how every penny we spend contributes to the alignment of business objectives, and communications objectives drive desired financial outcomes. Most of us are on a never-ending search for the magical combination of exponential efficiency and lasting value. So for us it's not about "how many" people we can touch with our message, but whether we can find the right ones to touch.

Step 2 is finding those "right ones." There are five places to look. You want customers (or potential customers) who:

•Buy a lot. This is the most obvious one, of course. The more a target group participates, purchases, etc., the greater its value. If you are selling beer, you want to target partyers, not the people who buy the occasional six-pack.

#149;Have decision-making power. The more responsibility target customers have for making purchasing decisions, the greater their value. (Wouldn't it be great to start a publication called Executive Branch; that would go only to people who work in the White House?)

•Respond to your brand. The more responsive a target group appears to be to your communications, the greater their value.

•Have growth potential. If you are selling vacations homes, you want to go after pre-retirees, not people in their 20s and 30s.

•Offer reachability. The easier and more cost-efficient it is to communicate with a target, the greater its value. It costs a whole lot less to reach ophthalmologists at their annual meeting than it does to take out an ad on the radio.

Step 3, then, is creating a detailed segmentation of your market so you can clearly define the right people to target for the right reasons. You want to understand the entire market so you can eliminate all but those who have the greatest likelihood of becoming your customers, remaining your customers, and even influencing incremental customers for you. That's actionable intelligence.

Do the Segmentation Analysis

When it comes to segmentation, too many companies rely on historical and anecdotal intelligence rather than the hard work (translated: fundamentals) required to identify the five most profitable groups outlined above. Innovative marketers know they have to do the segmentation analysis. It's the only way to know where to focus to obtain optimal results. Otherwise you are going to spend a lot of time and money trying to reach people who are never going to be your customers.

For somewhere between $150,000 and $300,000, depending on the size of the study, you could define your targets with certainty and confidence and produce a return on investment that is likely to get you promoted. Or you could watch the big game with your peers and high-five when your spot comes on.

It seems to make more sense to invest in a segmentation study that provides infinite potential (best case) or incremental value (worst case) for the next four to five years, instead of aiming for awareness that lasts only four to five days.