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Big Game Comes With Big Risk For Advertisers

Kellogg marketing experts offer insight on Super Bowl commercials

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Marketers are spending a record amount of money on Super Bowl commercials this year -- and a lot more on the crucial social media campaigns that accompany them.

That’s according to Tim Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

For the 11th straight year, Calkins and his students will gather around televisions to evaluate the high-stakes advertising competition that will play out as the Seattle Seahawks take on the New England Patriots during Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday.

Calkins sat down with Northwestern News to preview the latest on Super Bowl advertising.

Q: What are the trends in advertising for Super Bowl this year?

A: Demand is a little softer this year than we’ve seen in some prior years. Historically, the game’s advertising slots would sell out, and the network carrying it would promote that.

This year, we haven’t seen that. Many of the spots are committed, but NBC apparently still hasn’t sold all of the spots. I think this perhaps reflects a bit of the pricing. NBC boosted the prices this year, and I think that maybe has some advertisers asking if it is really worth the money or the risk. The Super Bowl is a great opportunity, but it’s also a risky venture for marketers.

The level of social media engagement from advertisers also has reached a new height this year. Advertisers are heavily pushing hashtags on Twitter as a way to engage people and get them to interact. We’ve seen it in prior years, but it is now reaching a new level of activity in 2015.

Q: How are advertisers trying to engage consumers on social media during this year’s Super Bowl?

A: This year, people are really trying to engage with customers ahead of the game. There’s a huge push to get people to connect with these brands. A couple of brands are using a voting mechanism. Those include Carnival Cruise Lines, which is asking people to vote on what commerical spot they want to run, and Doritos, which is running a “Crash the Super Bowl” promotion to get people to submit their own ads for voting.

Dads will be a big theme this year. Toyota, for instance, is asking people to post a picture of their dad on Twitter. Dove is also talking about fathers and trying to engage people.

One of the more creative efforts is from Snickers. Snickers encouraged people to post using the hashtag #EatASNICKERS on Facebook and Twitter. If enough people did that, they’d release their ad before the game. And they’ve done that. This is really a level of creativity that is terrific. It’s also a little bit of lunacy to think that we’re all so excited to see these ads that we post this stuff on social media. However, it’s entertaining and fun, and I think it really does connect with people. It also makes people think about maybe stopping for a Snickers on the way home.

Q: What types of brands are advertising on the Super Bowl this year? Who is not advertising?

A: New advertisers tend to jump in every year, and we also have some brands that take a pass for a year or two. This year, we have an interesting mix. Some big players, like McDonald’s, will be in the game for the first time in many years. We also have smaller companies, many of them digital. Some examples include Wix, a company that helps you make websites, Mophie, a company that makes cases for iPhones and other digital devices, and Squarespace, a Web development company.

The auto industry, which had 11 different brands in the game last year, will be down to about six or seven this year. Volkswagen, Audi and a few others are taking a pass. That’s a big step back, but it’s probably good for all those brands as it is very tough to break through with so many similar advertisers in the game.

Q: Is there anything we can learn about the economy as a whole from who is and who isn’t advertising in the game?

A: The fact that we have so many tech advertisers this year reflects a bit of the dynamics of the economy. The decline in overall demand for spots coupled with pullback from some auto brands suggests that while our economy might be doing well, it isn’t doing brilliantly well. If the economy was really booming, we’d see advertisers lining up to get on this game. We’re seeing that activity from digital brands, but overall there is a little bit of caution. That might be a pretty good reflection of where we are today in the economy overall.

Q: Is a Super Bowl ad always a good investment for a brand?

A: It’s incredibly expensive to advertise in the Super Bowl. The official price this year is $4.5 million for 30 seconds. That’s just the start of the cost, because you have to pay to produce the ad and to create public relations and social media campaigns along with it. By the time you put it all together, it’s a huge investment. It’s astonishing how much money is being spent around the Super Bowl.

Is it worth it? It’s a very simple and very frustrating answer -– it depends. For some of these companies, the Super Bowl will do great things for the brand by putting it on the map and changing the way people talk about it. GoDaddy and CareerBuilder have used the Super Bowl incredibly effectively to get their names on the map. However, it doesn’t make sense for everyone. Some companies won’t see a lift from being on the game. It might even hurt others because there is so much scrutiny involved. They could get negative buzz. There is a lot of risk involved, but that’s why it is fun to watch the game and think about what’s happening behind the scenes with each one of the ad campaigns.

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