Without Commercials, The Super Bowl Isn’t

A group of us flew down here to New Zealand for a large commercial shoot.  The weather’s nice, the country’s beautiful and the production team is very buttoned up.  Which is why we had the afternoon of Super Bowl Monday free to catch the Big Game™ at a local pub (Four Nations, Auckland, NZ).  Watching the game on a sunny afternoon certainly changed the experience but not half as much as watching it on an ESPN Live feed where the network fills the commercial breaks exclusively with ESPN promos.

That’s right: no Budweiser ads.  No Dockers, no Snickers, no Coke–just promos for rugby and soccer matches.  When the commercials came on, the crowd just headed for the rest rooms or the bar for another pint of Kilkenny’s (lovely stuff, that).

Without commercials, the Super Bowl is decidedly less Super.  It’s not nearly as engaging.  When it ended, people talked about the game for a while before quickly moving on.  There were no debates about which spot was best, what was a dumb investment, and who got hosed by unfortunate placement.  I’ll probably catch up later by watching them online but it’s not nearly the same as hearing a crowded bar erupt at a good joke or loudly pan a weak execution.

DVR technology allows people to skip past commercials and data shows many do–but they frequently rewind if they see something interesting.  And the Super Bowl majors in commercials that at least attempt to be something interesting.  Just this past Friday, a page one poll on USA Today claimed that 51% of viewers enjoy the commercials most about watching the Super Bowl on TV.  I’d have to agree.

Chalk a big W in the score column for traditional media.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

PS:  Do yourself a favor and read Ross Buchanan’s comment to this post.  Frankly, I wish I’d written it.

RTB says:

Yes, 51% of viewers last week said they enjoy Super Bowl commercials. But I have to wonder what that percentage would look like this morning. In my humble opinion, yesterday’s broadcast was devoid of memorable ads with the possible exception of the Betty White spot for Snickers. In fact, for sheer mental Velcro the best entry wasn’t an ad at all—it was a CBS promo for The Late Show With David Letterman that featured Oprah and, improbably, Jay Leno. Given recent events, THAT was surprising.

Isn’t the power of surprise the lesson of this year’s Super Bowl? Both the Saints and Colts came into the game with tremendous reputations for technically proficient football. Many consider Peyton Manning one of the greatest quarterbacks ever and much has been made of Drew Brees’ multiple 4000-yard passing seasons and 70-percent-plus completion record. But yesterday only one team delivered a surprise. It was the Saints, early in the third quarter, with their “Ambush” on-side kick. From that surprising moment on the game changed. And the Saints went from down by four to a 14-point victory. For all their virtuosity, the Colts lost. Furthermore, for all his robotic perfection, Peyton Manning is 9-9 in the playoffs and championship play. There is a lesson there.

No doubt most of the spots in this year’s “Big Game” were technically proficient and most were honed in focus groups. But testing shapes ads into ad-like-things, much in the way a wind tunnel always blows a globule of mercury into the contour of a teardrop. The results are consistent, which is to say not surprising.

I’m sure most advertisers on yesterday’s game can use their testing results to prove they didn’t make a wrong decision. Unfortunately, without surprise I would be hard pressed to make a case that they made a right one. What they proved was how much a company is willing to spend just not to be noticed: $2.7 million for a 30-second spot.

And that’s not counting the testing beforehand.