Video: Film Theory: Why Super Bowl Commercials LOSE the Big Game!
Ah, the Super Bowl commercial. The pinnacle of artistic expression. When done well, they challenge the mind, inspire the heart, and some – only the greatest of them all – can truly evolve us as a culture. (Wasuuuuuuuuup!) (Wasuuuuuuuuup!) (Wasuuuuuuuuup!) (Bleeeeeeeeeehhhhh!) Hey, look, I didn't say it evolved us for the better. [Film Theory intro theme] Hello Internet! welcome to Film Theory, Where we always root, root, root for the home team, as long as that team's mascot is statistical analysis. And before we begin, a quick shoutout to Merginq – the offical first comment on the Poppy conspiracy video. To be that early, you either rang the subscription bell, or you're part of the Illuminati.
If it's the first, hey, thanks for the support. If it's the second, please don't make me disappear. Please. I HAVE SO MANY THEORIES TO GIVE! But enough groveling to the Illuminati. We're at that time of the year, dear Theorists when the national conversation is dominated for an entire week by a 4-hour marathon of grown men running into each other to give the most aggressive of hugs. To answer the age-old question: (♫ Are you ready for some FOOTBALL?! ♫) No. No, I am not. And no, Monday Night Football, no amount of destroying national landmarks is gonna get me ready. Thanks though. Now all of this isn't to say that I don't like the Super Bowl – far from it, actually. True, I might not be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to Sportsball, but I do love gargantuan plates of chicken wings, and snarkily tweeting at halftime shows that go hilariously awry! No, not that one. Naw, THIS one. You do you, left shark! You do you. DANCE! DANCE LIKE NOBODY'S WATCHING! Nope, throughout the evening, away from the pigskin, there's another higher stakes game being played that I'm more interested in.
And no I'm not talking about the Kitten Bowl, I'm talking about the commercials. Almost one in four Super Bowl viewers last year reported that they were watching purely for the commercials. Which is fascinating. I mean, everything from Tivo to ad blockers to YouTube Red seems to indicate that we're trying really hard to avoid commercials, but one day out of the year, we all agree to give 'em a chance. And companies pay – 5 million dollars for just 30 seconds! In the next 10 years that number is expected to climb to TEN million dollars for 30 seconds. At that rate, someone screaming "DIET COKE!" at the camera for one second would cost $150,000. One hundred fifty THOUSAND for a SECOND! but sometimes if you do it right, you create a classic, like the Apple 1984 commercial, or the Wendy's "Where's the Beef?" ad. Note, though, that I said, "if you do it right." Because for every memorable one, there are dozens that are forgotten faster than an American Idol runner-up. Except for you, Clay Aiken, you'll never be invisible to me.
So today I'm setting out to determine, based on the data, what makes the perfect Super Bowl commercial. I measured various ad scoring systems, best and worst of the year lists, fluctuations in corporate stock prices, Google Trends search data, Basically everything about the commercials from the past ten Superbowls to answer the ultimate question; Who will win the BIGGEST of big games? The game for Superbowl Commerical Supremacy. So strap on your helmets, theorist team, and pat the butt next to you because it's time to kick off! That's a footballing term for starting the game. Now if we're going to build the perfect Superbowl commercial, it's a good idea to start simple. What should the commercial sell? The obvious answer seems to be beer. Since beer commercials dominate the list of the highest rated ads over the past ten years, with twenty-three of the top hundred ads, the most of any other product category, and an average of USA Today Ad Meter score of 7.91 out of 10.
That Ad Meter, by the way, is the most famous reviewing mechanism for Superbowl commercials, And a score of 7.91 means that the audience liked those commercials a lot. So long story short, just make a beer commercial, right? Well, those statistics should come with an asterisk, because every one of those 23 commercials is for either Budweiser or Bud Light, and Anheiser Bush, which makes both of those beers, has multiple ads running during the ol' big game. For the past two years, sure, they've had two commercials in the top ten, but four MORE that didn't do NEARLY as well. So just being a beer isn't gonna result in a slam goal. Uh, a field down. Just kidding, I know enough about sports to know that it's called a home run. In fact, being a beer might be the football equivalent of being put in the penalty box. In a study at Stanford's graduate school of business around Super Bowl commercials, researchers found that when two major competing brands advertise, most of the gains of running the ad are eroded. So, in other words, even if you ran a great beer ad, There's a high likelihood that Bud Light would get the credit for it anyway.
Instead, you'll make the most money off your commercial if nobody's selling a product in direct competition with yours, eliminating beers, cars, and insurance providers. Let me just say, I know that football has a lot of head injuries, but, really, WHY are there so many insurance commercials during the Super Bowl? Because I, as a football viewer, want to think about responsible economic decisions, while my wing-stained fingers reach for another handful of pork rinds? Speaking of, though, snack food. It's actually the best product to advertise during the Super Bowl for multiple reasons. One, it's easy to differentiate Doritos chips from Dannon yogurt. One is delicious, and one is bacteria-infested mil-[laughing] I have never understood you, yogurt. You are so strange. [beep noise] One is delicious, and one is bacteria-infested mil-[laughing] I can't do it.
[beep noise] One is delicious, and one- [laughing] God damn it! Get through it, Mat! [beep noise] One is delicious, and one is bacteria-infested milk. And two, according to the same Stanford study, if a Super Bowl commercial can draw an association between the consumption of its product and watching sports, well then, people are more likely to buy it in future sports-watching sessions. So, okay, we're hockin' snack food, but what's the optimal time to do it? According to the data, you don't want to come too early – …phrasing… but also don't want to risk running too late. Airing a commercial later in the game runs the risk of missing viewers who have turned the game off because the score isn't close. In 2014, for example, the Seattle Seahawks demolished the Denver Broncos 43 to 8.
And by the fourth quarter, the result was a forgone conclusion. As a result, at the end of the game, there were only about 46 million viewers still left watching. As such, the second quarter is ideal. Not only are the overall rankings of commercials highest during this quarter, but putting your ad in the second quarter also capitalizes on another benefit, social media traffic. This Nielsen graph shows the distribution of tweets during last year's Super Bowl, and that spike in the middle shows that people are much more active on Twitter during halftime. Airing a commercial during the second quarter increases the likelihood that any social media traffic will be fresh on people's Facebook and Twitter feeds before everything gets buried under snarky Tweets about the halftime show, thereby getting it more views and more shares. And seriously, let's face it, when are you most in the mood for a snack food commercial? Early on, when somebody might actually go on a snack run during halftime? Or in the fourth quarter, when you've already eaten half your body weight in nachos? I mean, even FatPat has his limits.
So we have the topic and the timing, now all we need is the tone. What style of commercial works the best? Is it better to go funny, like Betty-White-talking-trash-during-a-game-of-pickup-football-funny, (Betty: That's not what your girlfriend said!) Or do you smack 'em right in the feels, like, say, a lost puppy who's saved by some horses and then they become friends, and then the puppy is reunited with his owner? And… why are we chopping onions in my recording closet? [sniff] I'm okay. Well, here's the big secret – it doesn't matter. If you truly want to make a winning Super Bowl commercial, just feature an animal. No joke, nothing beats the power of cute. Throw in a sad puppy or a funny herd of cats, and overall Ad Meter audience approval scores for those commercials leap up to an average of 8. A full one and a half points above a typical ad spot without animals, regardless of the tone. Just, uh, make sure that you don't go overboard and create something like Mountain Dew's puppy-baby-monkey monstrosity of 2016.
Just…. just no. It's like an Undertale amalgamate of awful. There's a reason this pile of brand-approved barf reviewed at a 3.9/10. Abysmal! But then again, looking at the data, it did create the biggest internet response of the night, with almost 50,000 tweets immediately after it aired. So is the best strategy to make the worst commercial? Well, no, actually. Looking at the stock price for Pepsico, the company which owns Mountain Dew, it didn't do a lot for business the next day, only getting a slight boost of 1.17 points. Any marginal benefit they got from the Super Bowl commercial died away within the week. And actually, when you come to look at the data, it's a common trend with companies that advertise during the Super Bowl. Looking at Google Trends search data, sure, the day of the game and immediately after, searches for Doritos, the commercial winner of the last few years, shows a big spike in search, but by the end of the week, they're back down to normal levels.
People have moved on with their lives and think about Doritos the same way they've always thought about Doritos. As triangular-shaped signs of the Illuminati. And that, quite honestly, leads us to our ultimate answer. The Illuminati. Nope, nope, sorry, that was last video. The ultimate answer to how to create the best Super Bowl commercial is, you don't. Sure, you can shell out your five million dollars, grab your snack food, pin down a few cute animals, shove something funny into the second half, and then cross your fingers that the masses A) are watching, B) don't hate it, and C), no one else is shillin' for a similar product, or, you just spend that 5 million dollars somewhere else. Somewhere better. Somewhere where you will actually get a solid return on that money. Because here's the thing – making a Super Bowl spot is the biggest gamble of the game.
Competition amongst advertisers is the fiercest of the year, not everyone watches the commercials, but most of all, the value that you get out of it is questionable at best. Remember that I mentioned before that Bud Light is usually a top contender of this thing? In fact, Bud Light has been the official beer of the NFL since 2011, and paid 1.2 billion dollars for that right, but in that time, its volumes have fallen more than ten percent, as they lose ground to independent local craft beers. Sure, based on Google Trends, brands like Doritos get a strong bump in search every year that they run an ad, but it goes away in a few days. In fact, one ad research firm estimates that 80% of Super Bowl commercials don't boost sales. Another survey by the marketing analytics agency Adlucent showed that less than 1% of viewers watch to influence any kind of purchasing. And looking back at history, plenty of companies that have run Super Bowl ads have gone out of business shortly thereafter. One of the most famous was pets.
com, a company whose first commercial was a Super Bowl ad, that was ranked #1 of the year and had the highest brand recall by audiences of any other ad. And yet, despite building a bunch of brand recognition by spending over 11 million dollars on ads, that year, they only earned 619 thousand dollars worth of business. Even the best ad of the Bowl couldn't bring in customers, and they were quickly bankrupt. Then there was Just for Feet, which went out of business in large part thanks to their racist ad of drugging a Kenyan runner to give him tennis shoes. Or, how about Wix? A company that never posted a profit, but decided to run a ten million dollar ad anyway in the hopes of turning their fortune? For the next two days, their stock plummeted! Not only because they didn't get new customers, but because the stockholders were like WTF are you doing?! Lucky for them, the stock price returned to average later in the week.
Even going all the way back to that iconic Apple commercial I mentioned before, this was perhaps the commercial that made the Super Bowl ads into the spectacle that they are today. Oh, and Apple tried to do it again next year, with an ad spot showing people jumping off a cliff like lemmings, it didn't go over so well, and they wouldn't do another ad during the big game for another 14 years. But perhaps most telling of all is Esurance last year, a company who didn't run an ad during the game, instead doing it during the pregame, and they dominated social media, getting eight times the amount of mentions of their hashtag relative to second place. And those are just a few select examples! So instead, what do you do with that five million dollar money pile? Shove it into your mattress? Nah. Buy 1.7 million Crunchwrap Supremes? Nyeh, not that hungry. Spend it on YouTube? Absolutely yes. That one. And sure, you might think I'm playing favorites, because, y'know, this is where I work and all, but let's compare. The main value everyone cites about the Super Bowl is that it gets your ad in front of 100+ million people who watch the game.
Okay, well, for five million dollars, using YouTube's ad-buying tools, you could pay to have your ad show up in front of at least 100 million video playbacks. Seriously, that's about what the cost would be. And that's assuming five cents per view, which would be what's called a "targeted view". You see, by paying a bit more, I, as an ad-buying executive, can make sure that my ad runs in front of certain videos in order to target certain types of viewers. It wouldn't make much sense to run an engine oil ad in front of Zoella, since her audience isn't tuning up the car that much. But if I really wanted to, I could, by paying a bit more. And for five cents, you can actually get a fair amount of targeting. In other words, for five cents a view, I could force my freakish Mountain Dew puppy-monkey-baby in front of all gamers, and also everyone doing a cringe compilation, and boom! Suddenly I've found my perfect audience for that weird freakshow I thought was a good idea that clearly won't sell me any more Mountain Dew Jumpstart, but hey, at least the snarky gamers will be making fun of it and I'll be all the trending hashtags.
But not only would I have more control over who would be watching my video, I'd be more sure that those people WOULD be watching my video. YouTube doesn't call them TrueView ads for nothing. You have to watch them in order to watch the video that you came for. And even if you did wait the five seconds and then click "skip", well, that's just the same as you tuning out the ad on TV and walking to get more chips. But at least in this case, I know that I got five solid seconds with you. And honestly, the benefits keep coming! Because of online data, I'm able to see the direct impact of my ad. Did you click "skip" or did you not? Did you click through to my website, or did you not? So instead of spending the five million dollars all at once and crossing my fingers that you like it, and that it works, and that you go to my website, and that you download the thing, and that you buy the app, or whatever the F it is, I can instead run the ad on a small scale, hone it and re-cut it to make it better and more effective, and then scale it up to that five million dollars! The money is going to be more effective, meaning that my risk as a business owner is drastically reduced.
So for the same price, I'm getting just as many views, with more reliability in the eyeballs that are watching me, and also HOW they're watching me. This is all good stuff, and it doesn't stop there. An ad like this would have a greater chance at virality and more staying power. Need an example? Look no further than the one ad that keeps kicking your ass, (Is it the Legend27?) The Legend27. By slamming YouTube with this ad everywhere for a month, Game of War was able to drill the epic lore of the Legend27 into enough people's heads that it created a meme, that has kept people talking about it weeks after it stopped being funny, creating their own spin-offs and remix videos. It's also weeks after they stopped running it as an ad unit. That, my friends, is the Holy Grail of advertising, resulting in not just more views, but the sort of cultural impact that "Wasuuuuuuuuup!" and "Where's the beef?" videos have had off of the Super Bowl in the past. It's not a one or two day spike like Doritos sees from advertising on the Super Bowl, it is a multi-week to multi-month to lifelong change in the way that people speak and behave around your product.
Heck, you could even throw some YouTubers into the mix! I guarantee that they cost a whole lot less than the 500,000 to 2 million dollars traditional celebrities charge for their 30 seconds of ad spots. Heck, I bet most would do it for the free bag of Doritos, or an awesome selfie with puppy-monkey-baby. That stuff is social media gold. But hey, that's just a theory. A film theory! Aaaaaaaand touchdown!.