Before the advent of the internet, we were raised on the axiom that every handwritten letter to a U.S. senator is equivalent to the thoughts of 1,000 other constituents. Now, the same is true of social media. If we use social listening tools to see changes in the sentiment related to brands, we can assert that it is a manifestation of thousands of consumers' thoughts.
With this as a framework, we plugged a series of Super Bowl advertisers into a social listening platform to gauge the effectiveness of the world's most-hyped TV ads. The findings were clear, consistent, and extremely interesting.
Super Bowl advertising works...
The social volume and sentiment for mature brands rarely change significantly unless there is a major event. Brand sentiment tends to remain fairly consistent, rising or falling only a few percentage points over time. A successful ad or product launch can change positive sentiment about a brand and lead to actionable results. However, rarely is the change profound.
The Super Bowl provided a fundamentally different reaction; the amount of chatter about most of the brands that we tracked was up at least three-fold around the Super Bowl. This is extremely rare and shows that Super Bowl advertising does, in fact, impact our collective conscious at a fundamental level. This is driven by the focused attention during the game as well as the post-game activities on major morning TV shows, newspapers, blogs, and social media hubs. We also know from independent studies that this increase in positive sentiment does, in fact, lead to increased sales. From a pure impact standpoint, ignoring return on the substantial investment, the Super Bowl is an unparalleled advertising vehicle.
...but not for long
It is not surprising that Super Bowl advertising works. What is fascinating is that the volume of social discussion and positive sentiment for most brands lasted only a few days, and then brands returned to the status quo. As you can see in the below chart, which was consistent across many of the brands we tracked, there was an enormous spike during the Super Bowl. That is the great news for the advertisers. The not-so-great news is that volume returns to pre-Super Bowl levels within a few days of the game.
Super Bowl advertising had an incredible impact on brand sentiment, but it was extremely short-lived.
As noted by Questus director of insights Scott Fiaschetti, "It is great to see that consumers are paying attention to the ads and participating in the post-game buzz. Yet, it is amazing to see brands return so quickly to the pre-game levels. Clearly, the ads work, but not for a sustained period of time. That leads to the big question that advertisers need to ask themselves when considering such an enormous investment: Is it worth it to spend that kind of money to make a major impact that only lasts a very short period of time?" For many brands, the answer clearly is "yes." They recognize that there are limitations to the sustained buzz and see great value in the absolutely incredible impact around the game.
Automotive companies face a tough battle
The spike around the Super Bowl was consistent across most brands and industries that advertised. The one exception was for automotive companies; there were multiple automotive advertisers that spent handsomely on both the media spots and the creative production -- yet, they didn't receive a spike like other category advertisers. Mostly, they got a small bump. This can't be explained by weak creative; the findings were consistent across the automotive advertisers. This is not to say that advertising on the Super Bowl was a bust -- rather, it is an indication of how difficult it is for automobile companies to make an impact with any form of traditional advertising.
As noted by Fiaschetti, "Automobile advertisements are notorious for poor recall. There are simply too many undifferentiated brands and undifferentiated advertisements. The Super Bowl at least generated a bump in consumer sentiment, but it highlights that automotive companies face an uphill battle and need to aggressively explore non-traditional ideas." Clearly, if automotive advertisers want to continue with traditional advertising, the Super Bowl is a viable alternative -- but this research reveals that the time has come to look at other connection points in the marketing chain to provide value and differentiation.
What we should take away from this
As modern marketers, we often scoff at traditional advertising. The reasons are considerable -- television ads are frequently ignored and increasingly ineffective. The Super Bowl is the pinnacle of traditional advertising -- it is both exciting and scary. We are all amazed at the incredible rates paid for Super Bowl advertisements, yet our first-hand experience reveals that there is truly nothing like this event.
This years' Super Bowl -- the most watched TV program ever -- was no exception. Consumers go out of their way to watch the ads. The effect of the advertisements is magnified in the following days, and we all wish our brand were part of the dialogue. Social listening proves that there is significant brand impact, meaning that sales will increase relatively proportionally. Yet, here we are, a little over one week later, and society has moved on. Most of us can't even remember more than a handful of the brands that advertised. The social chatter has completely returned to pre-game levels. So, was it worth it from a bottom-line ROI standpoint? Not shockingly, nobody really knows.
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