Measuring Bowl ROI? Good Luck

Marketers Struggle to Put Number on Internet Buzz, WOM, Overall Viewership

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NEW YORK ( -- For all the time, energy and angst marketers spend crafting the perfect Super Bowl spot, it's a relative breeze compared to trying to prove its return on investment.
Those 30 seconds of fame are only the tip of the iceberg, with online views, water-cooler chatter, blog buzz and USA Today's rating all below the surface. Consider, for example, that advertisers who opted to run their spots on NFL Network's cable-on-demand replay saw some 622,416 streams.

No wonder, then, that marketers wrestle mightily with just how much those Super Bowl ads (which this year are going for $2.6 million) actually yield.

Ten years ago
"Ten years ago you looked at Nielsen numbers and then day-after recall," said Kate Sirkin, exec VP-global research director, Starcom Mediavest Group. But now it's about more than just eyeballs. "You can look at online buzz, online traffic, people talking about your brand and searching online."

Starcom USA is using TalkTrack data from word-of-mouth firm Keller Fay Group to figure out the viral part of the Super Bowl jigsaw puzzle for advertisers. The agency is looking to answer four key questions: how much more people are talking about Super Bowl advertisers after the game vs. before it; which advertisers experienced the biggest jump in the number of conversations pre- vs. post-game; whether the Super Bowl had a positive impact on how consumers talk about the brands advertised; and whether people talk differently about Bowl advertisers from different categories.

Then there are more traditional yardsticks, such as press clippings. Media-measurement firm Carma International combed major news and business publications from last year for Advertising Age and found that between January and March 2006, Ford, Burger King and Budweiser got the most mentions, while, Sharpie and ESPN Mobile got the fewest. (ESPN Mobile is now defunct.)

Once the game is on-air, agencies can look at minute-by-minute audience data from Nielsen Media Research, as well as second-by-second data from TNS Media Research. But all that is complicated and time-consuming. "The downside is the resources it takes to source that data," Ms. Sirkin said.

Super Bowl spots perform well
Although last year the game averaged 90 million viewers and a 41.6 rating, it's the commercial rating -- not the program rating -- that's most telling for advertisers. And Nielsen statistics show Super Bowl spots perform well by that metric. The commercial rating was 41.22, just slightly below the football action, and men outnumbered women as viewers of the spots: The 18-and-older male demographic notched a 40.70 rating; the 18-and-older female demo came in at 30.58.

But raw numbers may not tell the whole story. "If you're going to look at next day's ad meter and use that as your barometer, you're doing yourself a major injustice," said Larry Novernstern, exec VP at Optimedia's Newcast. "As a company, you have to be the ultimate decision maker about whether it was a success."
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