Why Internet Companies Are Such Terrible Super Bowl Advertisers

Memo to Internet Companies: It's Not Enough to Hire a Celebrity and Say, 'I'm Here!'

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We are less than two weeks out from the Super Bowl, which means it's time to start wondering which internet company will turn a huge marketing investment into a colossal fail during the big game.

It's become something of an annual ritual over the last 10 years: an upstart web player throws away a massive marketing investment on an ad that will be forgotten or else remembered for the wrong thing, rather than the desired product, service or idea. Last year's Groupon Super Bowl debacle was just the latest installment.

Unlike other most more seasoned TV advertisers, it's almost like the management teams of some of these internet companies have embraced the Super Bowl simply as a way of saying, loudly and proudly, "I'm here!" But announcing you're here to 100 million-plus Super Bowl viewers is not the prescription for instant fame and success if the message isn't right. Forget the fact that 30 seconds costs a mere $3.5 to $4 million. Forget testing to make sure the ads resonate with consumers. Internet companies often seem to decide late, design quickly, and deliver the "creative" just in the nick of time. Their inability to provide necessary information that will resonate with Super Bowl viewers is as spectacular a fumble as the 30-second spot on the Super Bowl is an opportunity.

The fact is that everyone knows what a Dorito or a can of PepsiCo looks like, so conveying information about the product is not as important for these brands as it is for brands like GoDaddy.com and Salesforce.com, which are not every-day products used by consumers. The reality is that the bar is higher for many of these Internet brands, and creating an ad that conveys information and creates desire and brand affinity can't be done by simply hiring a D-list celebrity.

So what happened in the most recent Super Bowl? The fact is that there were zero dot com ads in Ace Metrix' top 10 most effective Super Bowl ads list last year, while 6 of the 10 least effective Super Bowl ads were from internet companies: two from Salesforce.com, one from Homeaway.com, one from Living Social, one from GoDaddy.com, and that aforementioned misfire from Groupon.

Not only did these companies spend millions on Super Bowl media, they also wasted significant dollars on hiring celebrities that did nothing to move their message or their brand forward, including Timothy Hutton for Groupon, Joan Rivers for GoDaddy and Will.i.am for Salesforce.com.

The year before was a little better. The 60-second Google Parisian Love ad was the 4th most effective Super Bowl in 2010, achieving an Ace Score of 596, while the Cars.com Timothy Richman ad was the 6th most effective ad of Super Bowl 2010 (with an Ace Score of 584). But those spots were anomalies.

You might say 'Wait, what about the CareerBuilder monkey ad that ranked so high on the USA Today list?' This ad scored high watchability, likeability and attention scores, but its low information, relevance and desire scores led to an overall Ace Score that was below the category norm (554 for CareerBuilder, compared to a category norm of 565), and its persuasion score was 589 compared to a category nor of 614.

And herein lies the problem. An ad can be funny, cute, viral, likeable, watchable, etc., but if a consumer doesn't get anything out of it but a laugh, it's just not effective. Many marketers are misled to believe that an ad that people love will be a great Super Bowl ad. Unfortunately, that 's not always the case, and many marketers skip the all-important step of testing their ad before such a massive media spend.

So, will things be different this year? Will Google surprise with one of their epic story-telling ads? Will CareerBuilder deliver another Timothy Richman? Will GoDaddy get its act together? Have Groupon and Living Social permanently hung up their Super Bowl hats? What about Salesforce? Aside from Google, which aired the highest-ranking playoff ad of the last two weekends, the others have been quiet so far in the postseason. Let's hope that some lessons have been learned. In any case, it will give us a lot to discuss. Game on!

Peter Daboll is CEO of ad effectiveness firm Ace Metrix. Prior to joining Ace Metrix, Peter was CEO of Bunchball, a venture-backed company focused on building consumer incentive and reward systems for brands and websites. As Chief of Insights at Yahoo!, Peter managed internal and external marketing and consumer information to drive strategic insight. As president and CEO of ComScore Media Metrix, Peter led revenue and customer growth as the company became the industry-leading online audience measurement system in the world. Peter also held president and COO roles at MarketTools, Inc., Advertising.com, and MediaPlan, Inc.
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