Why Do Companies Pay $3.5 million for Super Bowl Ads?

At an average cost of $3.5 million, Super Bowl commercials must accomplish a lot – increasing consumers’ awareness, liking and preference for the brand advertised. How do they do it? Consider a few examples:

1. Volkswagen’s “The Dog Strikes Back” – People like dogs, and most of us can relate to the overweight Golden Retriever. Like us when we pack on too many pounds, he gets off the couch, starts exercising, resists overeating and soon he’s lost the extra weight. He can now fit through the dog door and chase cars again, this time a new Volkswagen. We can’t help but like the Retriever, and the car looks pretty good, too. This is a good example of the principle of association – good or bad feelings tend to rub off on anything associated with them.

2. Doritos “Man’s Best Friend” – More power of emotional association with a little salesmanship mixed in. The good-looking Great Dane illustrates just how good Doritos are – tasty enough to enable the dog to bribe his male owner into overlooking his killing and burying the family cat.

3. Bridgestone’s “Performance Basketball” – This time, cute sleeping babies and NBA stars Tim Duncan and Steve Nash impart good feelings to Bridgestone tires. Duncan and Nash dribble a basketball made out of the same material as high-performance Bridgestone tires designed to eliminate road noise. Both tires and basketball pass “the sleeping baby test.” This commercial does two things: It imparts the good feelings generated by the babies and basketball stars to Bridgestone tires and demonstrates that this tire company is constantly finding new ways to make the best tires. This commercial distracts us from the sales pitch, avoiding viewer irritation.

4. Chevy’s “Happy Grad” – The parents of a new college graduate blindfold him and lead him outside to unveil his graduation gift, an apartment-size refrigerator. Unfortunately, it’s on the sidewalk in front of the neighbor’s brand new Chevy convertible. The grad, beside himself with joy, assumes the car is his gift. Soon his friends join him in rejoicing, including his girlfriend who offers to marry him, an offer he accepts. The grad proclaims, “This is the best day of my life.” The Chevrolet logo and “Chevy Runs Deep” appear briefly onscreen. Finally, the neighbor appears and drives off in his new car. The grad laments, “Mr. Johnson just stole my car!”

This amusing story cleverly hides the embedded sales pitch: ‘This Chevy is so great that obtaining one brings tremendous pleasure. Buying one could bring about the best day of your life.’ If GM actually said this, most viewers would reject the inflated message. Presenting it as the actual reaction of a new graduate who received such a gift would be greeted with skepticism. But staging it as a comical mistake gets our emotions involved. We’re amused and almost embarrassed by the reaction of the grad, his friends and girlfriend. We wonder what he’ll do when he learns the truth. What we don’t notice is that Chevrolet has implanted a pretty strong marketing message into the back of our minds. The feelings invoked by this commercial may well surface if we’re shopping for a car in the near future.

Building in psychological components is one of the marketing communication strategies that run deep in Super Bowl advertising. High cost demands strong results. Time will tell if this year’s ads increase sales. We at The Allied Group, a marketing communications and full service fulfillment company, will watch and report.

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