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What Super Bowl 51 Taught Us About Digital Advertising

By Dennis Jones

What the Super Bowl taught us about Digital Advertising

Another Super Bowl done and dusted. And boy was it one for the ages. Even if ratings didn’t make records, they were still pretty good at more than 111 million viewers. But besides the diehards, at least a few of those viewers were tuning in for the commercials. That’s because viewers expect the crème de la crème of advertising work during the Super Bowl, as big brands seek to capitalize on the year’s biggest TV event in the U.S. Traditionally, big brands have made the calculus that the Super Bowl is their best opportunity to get mass viewership for their ad spots; and that that viewership will translate into revenue dollars down the line. But there’s been a growing body of evidence pointing to the demise of the iconic 30-second Super Bowl spot. And quickly stepping in to fill the void left by traditional advertising is digital advertising.

So what’s going on? First and foremost, although Super Bowl viewership provides a golden, potentially high revenue opportunity for big brands, that opportunity doesn’t come cheap. Since networks can expect around 40 percent of U.S. households to tune in, advertising spots cost around $5 million each. For context: that number has just about doubled in the last ten years. Furthermore, those spots have to be reserved months in advance, as competition is absolutely cutthroat. That’s even before you start talking about production costs. Those advertising costs make sense if you’re getting a good ROI for a 30-second spot. But studies show that anywhere between 80 and 90 percent of Super Bowl ads do not boost sales or purchase intent. That’s a lot of money for little ROI. And even though studies show that in a vacuum brands are likely to get some lift from Super Bowl advertising, those same studies show that brands will only get that lift if their competitors don’t advertise as well. How likely is that?

Faced with those numbers, big brand marketing departments can choose unilateral disarmament, or they can hedge their bets with more digital advertising, opting for more online campaigns, which tend to be cheaper than traditional TV spots. In other words, you can get a lot more bang for your buck with digital advertising. Plus you’re delivering original content to digital platforms where you know your consumers are.

Big marketing departments are therefore harnessing the power of digital advertising. For one, digital advertising spending keeps increasing year over year – at scary fast rates as well. In fact, digital advertising spending was supposed to have surpassed TV advertising spending in the U.S. last year.

But big brands are reluctant to completely remove Super Bowl spots on TV from the equation, even as they ramp up on digital advertising.  We’ve seen more digital advertising in the run up to the game, so brands can build more buzz, enhancing the TV spot with an online strategy. Savvy brands are also using digital channels to respond to their own TV spots in real time.