Yes, the Super Bowl Is Well Worth $3M a Spot

Even in Tough Economy, Buy Pays Off Big in Web Traffic, Publicity and Sales

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CHICAGO ( -- Super Bowl stalwarts General Motors and FedEx are sitting on the sidelines this year. NBC is still hawking unwanted inventory a week before the event. A Miller High Life campaign is mocking rival Anheuser-Busch's seven spots in the big game as an out-of-touch extravagance.

Hyundai:The automaker used the Super Bowl to draw potential buyers to its Genesis website.
Hyundai:The automaker used the Super Bowl to draw potential buyers to its Genesis website.
They must have a point, right? Surely, spending $3 million on a Super Bowl ad in the midst of a crushing economic downturn is a foolish waste when chief marketing officers' jobs are on the line?

On the contrary, it's a bargain.

The Super Bowl presents not just a huge platform with astounding audience numbers where consumers actually lean forward to watch your ad. It also pays surprising ancillary dividends in awareness: reams of press coverage that drive word-of-mouth and stampeding traffic to websites. Most importantly, for the right company, it can establish a relationship with key consumers and sell product.

Read more about marketers on Super Bowl XLIII and check out Ad Age's comprehensive chart of creative plans behind this year's spots. Check back again Feb. 2 for Bob Garfield's review of all the commercials.
"Super Bowl week is now the seventh-biggest selling week of the year for our company," said Anheuser-Busch InBev North America President Dave Peacock. "It's the only week in the top 10 that's not in May, June, July or August. We've created a beer occasion."

Getting second look
Beyond that, Mr. Peacock argued, the buy isn't even all that risky for A-B. The game routinely draws roughly 50% of the viewing public, and last year it drew 46% of adult beer drinkers, according to MRI. And, in an era when ads are routinely time-shifted into oblivion, consumers seeking to get a second look at A-B's ads drove up traffic to its branded websites 600% during the week following the game. (According to Nielsen BuzzMetrics, A-B's ads drew 21 million views in the seven days following last year's game.)

Hyundai is another major marketer that can attest to the power of the big game. The automaker purchased two spots in the third quarter of last year's Super Bowl to promote its luxury marque, the Genesis. The ads, created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, were designed to drive people to the marketer's website, -- the URL got two subtle plugs in each ad. It worked -- and how: More than 300,000 people went to the site during the game, staying an average of five-and-a-half minutes, said Joel Ewanick, VP-marketing, Hyundai Motor America.

"We know that 85% of Hyundai buyers use the internet to make their buying decision, so it's very important to engage them online," said Mr. Ewanick. "We got 25,000 really rich sales leads from the people we drove to the site. And those people stayed with us. They became people with whom we had a conversation and relationship, and were an important source of vehicle sales."

It may not be surprising to find that megamarketers such as Hyundai, A-B -- which boasts a nearly 50% share of U.S. beer -- or the likes of Pepsi and Coke find the premium for such huge audiences worthwhile. But smaller-scale marketers also find the game a great opportunity to build awareness.

Consider the case of GoDaddy, the web-domain registrar best known for its raunchy, censor-flustering ads. "The day before we ran our first ad in 2005, our market share of new-domain registrations was 16%," said Bob Parsons, GoDaddy's founder and CEO. The following week, it increased to 25%, "and held," he added. "The next year, it moved from 25% to 32%. We had a nice bump every game. Right now, we are at 46% worldwide."

Free PR for banned spots
Mr. Parsons said his company determines the success of its Super Bowl ads by tracking visitors to the GoDaddy site before and after the ad airs, as well as totting up new customers and what they spend on the company's products. He said putting a dollar value on the attendant publicity is difficult, but he cited an outside firm's analysis that calculated that GoDaddy reaped $11.7 million in public relations last year when Fox declined to run its second Super Bowl ad and the press picked up the story.

Needless to say, GoDaddy is back in this year. A Super Bowl ad "will pay for itself before the year is out," Mr. Parsons predicted. "We have not been in a Super Bowl that didn't make [us] money."

Another web-based marketer, E-Trade, opted to return to the game this year after its "Talking Baby" ad in Super Bowl XLII led to a 32% surge in newly opened and funded accounts opened in the week following the game. Online searches for the brand grew 1,000% from the hour before the game to the hour after the game, and more than 5 million people viewed the ad online, according to E-Trade CMO Nick Utton. This year, the marketer is investing more in digital and viral tactics to grow those numbers and multiply the impact of its buy.

"This is not 'spend and pray,'" he said. "This is a well-thought-through, strategic decision."

And when the message is right, the numbers speak for themselves: grew brand awareness 12% last year with its Bowl buy; Audi saw its web traffic climb 200% in the 30 days following the game; CareerBuilder saw a 68% surge in job applications in the three months following the game. Of course, when they get to the site, it's up to the automaker to cinch the sale.

"We almost can't afford not to advertise," said a Pepsi spokesman. "It's no accident we've been doing this for 23 straight years."

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Contributing: Brian Steinberg, Jean Halliday, Natalie Zmuda, Rupal Parekh

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