Super Bowl ads generate Super hype
Consumers seem to have an insatiable appetite for Super Bowl advertising...but do the ads work?
By Paul R. La Monica, senior writer

NEW YORK ( Tens of millions of Americans will watch the Super Bowl this Sunday. For many it's more important to see how the Burger King fares than how Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger does against the Seattle Seahawks.

The nation is obsessed with Super Bowl ads. It's gotten to the point where the build-up to and analysis of the commercials is almost as extensive as the pre-game and post-game chatter about the football game itself. And many media companies have taken notice.

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AOL, which like is owned by Time Warner (Research), has a site set up for viewers to vote for their favorite ads. So does Microsoft's (Research) MSN.

Yahoo! (Research) will have an archive of this year's commercials thanks to a partnership with Web video firm IFILM, which Viacom's (Research) MTV unit bought last year. People will also be able to go to the NFL's official web site to view the ads after the game.

And newspaper USA Today has arguably the most well-known and comprehensive Super Bowl ad critique.

CBS (Research), which isn't even airing Super Bowl XL, is trying to cash in on Super Bowl advertising mania with a TV show called "Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials Top 40 Countdown" that will air on Saturday night.

Viewers will find out which of the following three commercials is named the favorite of all time: Coca-Cola's (Research) Mean Joe Greene ad from 1980, Apple's (Research) "1984" Macintosh ad, or Reebok's 2003 spot with Terry Tate, the "office linebacker."

Even ads that don't make the big game are amusing

Why is there such an infatuation with Super Bowl ads? In this age of the digital video recorder (DVR), many people prefer to zoom past commercials. On Sunday, however, many viewers are likely to TiVo (Research) the game so they can re-watch the ads.

"There's no other time in the year where commercials can take center stage," said David Carson, co-CEO of, an online video and humor site catering to young men. "Commercials are always the things that are playing when you're going to the bathroom or grabbing a soda from the fridge." is taking the obsession with Super Bowl ads to a whole new level. It currently has a package of ads that have been banned from prior Super Bowls on its Web site, including a commercial for natural cold remedy Airborne that showed actor Mickey Rooney's bare bottom as well as an ad from controversial Internet domain name registry

"A lot of commercials that have been rejected are really entertaining," Carson said.

But fans should fear not. The company, which advertised last year but had another ad planned for the game pulled because of risqu content, will have a new commercial airing during Super Bowl XL. The company said on Thursday that Walt Disney (Research)-owned ABC, which is broadcasting the game, finally approved a spot after the company had submitted 14 different versions.

Click here for a sneak peek at this year's Super Bowl ads

Bruce Vanden Bergh, a professor of advertising with Michigan State University, said the Super Bowl proves that people don't really hate commercials...they just hate the boring ones.

"Most consumers don't dislike advertising. They just dislike bad advertising," said. "When the advertising is good and entertaining, people like that. It's no longer an intrusion."

He added that the Super Bowl also benefits from the fact that not a whole lot is going on culturally at the end of January and early February.

"It's the middle of winter. The holidays are over. People just like the frivolity of it. It's a guilty pleasure," said Vanden Bergh. "Normally, most consumers would not admit that they like ads or that they influence their behavior. But now we have this great secular holiday."

Funny...but are the commercials effective?

Still, do the ads actually work?

Many companies that have advertised during the Super Bowl have pointed to improved brand awareness, higher sales and increased visits to their corporate Web sites following the game. But according to one recent study, Super Bowl advertisers may have a tougher time impressing audiences.

David Brandt, managing director of marketing insights for OTX, a Los Angeles-based consumer research firm, said that his company showed six high-profile ads from companies that normally advertise during sporting events to two groups of people. One group was told that the ads were going to air in this year's Super Bowl. The other was not.

Brandt said that the group of people who were told the ads were going to be in the Super Bowl did not have as high an emotional connection with them as the other group.

What's more, the consumers who thought they were viewing Super Bowl ads found the commercials to not be very informative about the company...a potentially bad sign since raising brand awareness is supposed to be the point of marketing.

"Consumers have in their mind a very specific style for Super Bowl ad so advertisers may be their own worst enemy since they are constantly raising the bar," said Brandt. It's a matter of expectations. Viewers want to be entertained and surprised."

Brandt stopped short of suggesting that investing $2.5 million, this year's average price for a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl, is a bad idea though.

"I don't think it's a waste of money if you do it right since you normally cannot reach this many people with a single spot," he said. "But you've got to do it right. The Super Bowl is a very different animal than what you see on everyday television."

For more about this year's Super Bowl commercials, click here.

Truckers want Coca-Cola to pull a pre-game ad. Click here to find out why.

The reporter of this story owns shares of Time Warner through his company's 401(k) plan. Top of page

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