Super Bowl Detractors Need to Look Beyond the Spots

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Believe it or not, the Super Bowl is a bargain -- even at $3 million a spot.

After we unveiled that nugget of information in last week's cover story, a number of readers took us to task for applauding such spending in this economy for such an old-school ad-delivery mechanism.

We politely suggest that our critics are missing the point.

Of course $3 million is a ridiculous amount of money for a 60-second spot -- if you're overlooking the millions who tune into one of the last great TiVo-proof live events. And the millions who watch the game specifically for the ads. And the millions who will watch the ads repeatedly after the game is over.

But we don't want to get bogged down in an argument we've made before.

Critics have to consider the whole picture. What's as important as a spot in the big game is what that spot is used for. The fact is a Super Bowl ad is more than just one ad -- or, it had better be.

If you're a marketer doing a goofy spot that's completely irrelevant to your brand, you are wasting your money. But if you're using that spot as a hub for a broader campaign -- to drive consumers to a website to generate traffic, leads or sales -- then $3 million doesn't seem like so much money. Consider these stats: Audi saw a 200% increase in web traffic after the game; CareerBuilder saw a 68% increase in job applications; E-Trade saw a 32% increase in new accounts; Hyundai generated 25,000 sales leads.

Note, too, that Hyundai generated those leads without the sort of Super Bowl spot that indulged in the excesses typical to the genre.

The Super Bowl -- like any medium, ranging from old-fashioned print to the new frontier of social media -- is a tool. In this case, it's a very expensive and powerful tool.

We're not apologists for overpriced buys. If used incorrectly, this powerful tool can do plenty of harm. Consumers (and the media) don't like lousy Super Bowl ads. They also don't like rushing to a website to find that it's crashed, so you'd best have your ducks in a row. And if poor execution and preparation leave you with no return on investment, you can bet the shareholders will want some heads to roll.

Used correctly, it can do a great deal -- and be a great deal -- for your brand.

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