CFOs cringe at price, but Bowl delivers the masses

If you're looking to reach 91 mil captivated viewers, $2.6M spot is the answer

By Published on .

bjohnson@crain.com

A second on CBS's Super Bowl next Sunday will sell for $86,667-more than what CBS charged for a minute on its broadcast of the first Bowl game 40 years ago ($85,000).

The record price-$2.6 million for 30 seconds-translates into a cost per thousand viewers north of $28, a lofty CPM that could get a CMO in trouble with the CFO or those automatons from procurement.

But a focus on those big numbers misses the bigger point. "People don't buy the Super Bowl for efficiency. They buy it to be part of a great event," said Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at Horizon Media.

It's an expensive ticket, but that only gets marketers on the field. To get any payoff, they need to play the game to win, with a coordinated marketing campaign including a solid commercial for a relevant product, supported by well-executed promotions and publicity.

"It's really event marketing," Mr. Adgate said.

The ad buy delivers the masses-good news or bad, depending on your target. The audience-90.7 million people age 2 and older last year, according to Nielsen Media Research-includes a lot of viewers (toddlers, seniors) who are not particularly relevant to Bowl advertisers such as Budweiser or CareerBuilder. For sponsors targeting only a subset of the audience-say, young adults-the CPM could look unsettling.

"It's not necessarily a CPM buy," said Andrew Donchin, director of national broadcast at Aegis Group's Carat USA. "If it was, it would scare everybody away."

Mr. Donchin stresses the Super Bowl is a bigger deal than CPM: It's a unique environment with the biggest TV audience of the year (including a large unmeasured audience) and an event where figuring out the winning and losing commercials is part of the game.

The Super Bowl merits superlatives. It's the biggest show of the year for total audience, for men and for women. "It's the highest-rated kids show," Mr. Adgate said. "It's the highest rating for [almost] any demographic." He notes that for female viewers, the game roundly beats the Academy Awards, the supposed "Super Bowl for women."

According to Nielsen data compiled by Mr. Adgate, nearly one-third of the nation-32.2% of people age 2 and older-watched last year's Super Bowl. The game drew 17% of children age 2-11, 26.5% of those age 12-17, 34.4% of 18-49, 37.5% of 25-54, and 36.9% of people 55 and older.

Actual negotiated prices for Super Bowl time vary considerably, and some big advertisers have reported paying around $2 million. It's like buying a car-it's easier to swallow a high sticker price if you can boast how much you saved rather than how much you spent.

Costs depend on such factors as how many spots an advertiser buys and whether ads run in the coveted first quarter of the game or the riskier fourth quarter, when viewers may tune out if the game is a blowout.

Though the price per spot is up $100,000 compared to last year, some advertisers will pay $2.6 million for prime placement on advertising's ultimate stage.

"The Super Bowl is the only sure thing on TV," said Horizon's Mr. Adgate. "There's nothing else like it on the television landscape. As media continues to get fractionalized, this is immune to that, and that raises the value of [the Super Bowl] every year."
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