Super Bowl ads: MSU Denver marketing professor Darrin Duber-Smith on what makes them successful

So it's probably a really bad idea for smaller companies to go all in for a first-time Super Bowl ad, right?

Let me give you a great example of a failure like this, although it wasn't the Super Bowl: It was the final episode of Seinfeld. Lots of people watched that. It was a big one -- just like the Super Bowl. It was a great time to mass-market. Back in the day when the natural-products industry was just getting going, there was a company called Gardenburger that made veggie burgers. What Gardenburger did was spent a half million dollars, which was their entire marketing budget, on one thirty-second spot. What happened was the meatless category rose 30 percent after Seinfeld. The problem: Nobody just bought Gardenburger. Nobody just remembered Gardenburger. The whole category rose, so essentially Gardenburger did some marketing for everyone else. And the category dropped back down to normal after six weeks because there wasn't any continuity.

What advertiser consistently produces the best Super Bowl commercials?

I think the number of commercials is important. Budweiser is up there. I've found the least effective ads to be from car companies. Up until a few years ago when Volkswagen did that little Darth Vader kid, car ads were consistently bad. Let me just say this: That was the best car ad I've seen, that Darth Vader one. But in general, car ads are all the same. They're all about a minute long, which costs them $5 million dollars, and they just show the car driving around, driving around, driving around. The Super Bowl is not a good time to do that. What made that Volkswagen commercial genius was not only the cuteness and creativeness of a little Darth Vader, but the fact they interviewed that kid the next day and it went viral.

Are there specific time slots worth more than others?

Yes. Super Bowl ads in the first quarter are worth more than they are in the fourth quarter because people tend to flake off, especially around halftime. Those first few ads are the ones most people are gonna see because everyone's attention is on the game when they first sit down. This makes the type of advertising you do before the Super Bowl that much more important.

What's your favorite Super Bowl commercial of all time?

Do you remember three or four years ago when Miller Lite did the one-second High Life spot? It's one you will never see again. That was it. That was the one everybody was talking about the next day. Budweiser spent something like $30 million on ads for the Super Bowl and High Life must have spent $100,000 and the next day all anybody could talk about was High Life. That was the first time I've ever seen a one-second ad. I don't know exactly what they paid for it, but I know you're never gonna see it again because the big beer companies won't allow it. You wanna talk about the most cost-effective ad in the Super Bowl? That was it. The reason it was effective is because Miller then spent years using that person as a spokes-character. It all goes back to continuity.

In addition to teaching at MSU Denver, Duber-Smith also finds time to blog about contemporary marketing for Cengage Learning. You can find his musings and analysis here.

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Sam Harper
Sam Harper

Chasing Chills halftime show! :D

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