Bowl Marketers: You Need to Go Big or Go Home

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Marketers spending big money in the Super Bowl are going to have step up their game.

This year's dramatic game between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts pulled in a record-breaking number of viewers. On the surface, that's good news for marketers that have bought spots. But the fact of the matter is, with the actual games seemingly getting better over the last few years, more and more of those viewers may be tuning in to watch football rather than commercials.

And fans of both football and advertising seem to have declared this year's crop of spots wanting. As one reader of Ad Age said, "As a lifelong Saints fan, I must thank most of the marketers. Your mediocre spots allowed my guests time to socialize, eat and take the requisite bathroom breaks without missing the real reason to be watching the TV."

In some years, that sort of sentiment could be chalked up to ad-industry griping, but the belief that most of the ads were mediocre seems widespread this year.

And that's too bad.

There could be a number of reasons for this. As we've written elsewhere, the Super Bowl doesn't seem to draw as many category leaders as it once did. That may be due to pricing, to a lack of return on investment or to the shift to other forms of media.

Still, those smaller brands getting into the game are paying full price to be there -- and most of them have full-service agencies crafting ads for them. Ultimately, there is no reason for so many retreads and duds.

Well, there is one reason: Too many marketers have become hooked trying to game the USA Today Ad Meter. And that leads us to a raft of ads that basically boil down to a guy getting hit in the crotch. Such ads used to be funny because they were a shock. But when all the ads look the same, what little humor there is in the situation disappears.

The Super Bowl, despite its cost, provides the rarest of opportunities for marketers -- an environment where the ads are also programming. But as the quality of the ideas drops and sameness permeates far too many spots, leading people to tune-out and turn to their TiVos, the industry may lose a valuable vehicle.

If a marketer is spending big in the game, it should at least be delivering ads that are unforgettable. Sadly, it seems that if any of this year's crop were memorable, it was for all the wrong reasons.

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