Marketing is broken, at least marketing as we know it. A non-marketeer dredges up the ugly and the beautiful in the marketing world.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Recounting the "Bubble Bowl" - Super Bowl 2000

Super Bowl advertisers in 2000 had an excuse, the real question is what justifies the $2.4 million per half-minute of airtime in 2005? Forbes regales us with recollections of the miserable dot-com failures that ponied up the $2 million for their Super Bowl moment of fame in 2000. Though I've found a site with some of the 2000 ads posted, I can't find the really interesting list - a list of ALL advertisers that year. It's easy to pan the has-beens, those whose value tanked and even disappeared when the internet bubble burst. There's a certain mocking in the article - I think the financial rags are still trying to distance themselves from the central role they played in hyping the new economy that these companies would tap.

They should be mocking everyone, not just the easy targets. Who was more effective, the sock puppet of the now-defunct (2000), the forgettable ad with God putting Tabasco sauce on his pizza (2000), or the mundane ad with new Cadillac models (2004)? People weren't even talking about the latter two the next DAY, but I know that 5 years later, people can STILL laugh about the sock puppet, and KNOW the brand it was associated with (

For a Super Bowl ad to be worthwhile, you need to be CERTAIN that your ad will not only be talked about the next day, but that they'll mention your ad BY BRAND. Sure, E-Trade's ad with the monkey that boldly proclaimed they had just wasted $2 million dollars was funny, but who called it "that e-Trade ad"? They said, "Did you see that ad about wasting money with the monkey?" "Yeah, who was that for?" MEGA bonus points if your Super Bowl ad can be extended into more than a one-shot deal, an ad campaign.

There's a reason Budweiser's Super Bowl ads are consistently memorable (placing at least 1 if not 2 ads in the top 3 each year since 1999, according to They recognize that the $2 million is just part of the equation. A few years back, I got a card in the mail in December or January, asking me to do marketing research for "beer", reward: $75. Turns out it was market research for Budweiser. They had probably a hundred people in my session in Atlanta alone. They showed us dozens of ads, which we rated on multiple criteria (humor, brand image, etc). The DVD had over 100 ads on it. Then, they sat us in roundtable discussions of the ads, clearly recorded and observed. Not only did some of our favorites make the big game, some of our less favorite ads played in weeks before and after the game, and the least favorite ads never aired.

That Budweiser succeeds every year is no coincidence. Without a doubt, that $2+ million per 30 seconds is just a part of their Super Bowl ad budget. They spent $7500 to compensate the consumers that attended my session. And they had 4 Atlanta sessions. And I'm sure Atlanta wasn't the only city. And the market research firm probably charged a good bit themselves. And they paid to have over 100 ad concepts not only developed, but filmed. And that's why they win.

It seems that so many companies view that big-ticket Super Bowl ad as the main cost, and fill that time with an ad that costs just a bit more than their average prime time TV spot to develop. The problem is that Super Bowl ads are do-or-die. At that price, they could buy 20 times as many ads during prime time on a major network, but against weaker competition. If your ad isn't memorable, and "memory" includes your remembering your product, not just the ad, you just wasted $2 milion. It's obvious that few companies put in the diligence that Budweiser does to make sure their ads will succeed. The real question is, why? Most companies would spend a great deal of time weighing whether $2 million spent on IT, building expenses, or a rebate program. Why does marketing get a pass when it comes to thinking about ROI? In the past, it was because marketing was an immeasurable black art. In the new world of 180 channels, millions of web sites, Google AdSense, and so-on, marketing is becoming just as measurable as any other business expense. How long before the suits figure this out?


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