January 29, 2001

The Other Side of the Super Bowl: The Ads

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Almost everybody who watched the Super Bowl last night on television saw the commercials. So did Prof. Douglas M. Stayman, Johnson Graduate School of Management — except he took notes.

For the past eight years, Stayman, an associate professor of marketing, has led MBA students in the Johnson School Marketing Club in a discussion of the advertising successes and failures during the game. When the club meets again on Wednesday, he will ask the question: were the Super Bowl commercials worth it to the companies that advertised? Each 30-second spot cost advertisers an average of $2.3 million.

Following the game, Stayman offered his own critique of several notable advertisements.

First and foremost, he thought of Budweiser.

“I really try to use Bud as an example,” Stayman said of the traditional Super Bowl advertising powerhouse.

Budweiser is so invested in the football game that they have actually developed a four-quarter strategy, Stayman noted.

Early in the game, Budweiser unveils its novel, eye-catching images. After halftime, the company emphasizes its tradition and focuses more on the product itself, often drawing attention to its history in the industry. Budweiser turns to the “drink responsibly” message as the game winds to a close.

The once-a-year event particularly lends itself to Budweiser, because the company spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year in advertising. Spending about $18 million for approximately four minutes of commercial time — while expensive — is something Budweiser can do.

“I was counting to see who had more advertising, Budweiser or Survivor,” Stayman said, adding with surprise that Budweiser appeared in more commercials.

“I thought Survivor would be bigger than Bud, but [CBS] put more money into [advertising] other CBS shows,” he said.

The exception, which football fans could not help but notice, was the Survivor theme in graphics during the game, Stayman said.

Next Stayman discussed EDS, the global services corporation that introduced cat-herders to Super Bowl viewers last year. The company returned with “the running of the squirrels,” a parody of the running of the bulls tradition in Pamplona, Spain.

“It’s cute, [and] it’s funny,” Stayman said, “but it would be a lot better if it were for someone else, because what’s funny about EDS?”

Stayman was prepared for Volkswagen to try to attract younger people with its commercials, but he was disappointed with the overall appeal of the ad.

“I guess I have high expectations for Volkswagen. ‘Drivers wanted’ is great,” Stayman said.

“VW, ten yeas ago, was thinking about leaving the United States,” he said, adding that marketing was a factor in the company’s survival here.

“If I were to ask you what is different between Toyota and Volkswagen, you would say Toyota is more reliable and VW is fun to drive. You would just be giving back what they have been telling you [in their commercials].”

Stayman was least impressed with FedEx, which produced commercials in the past that he thought were much better. He also said that Visa ran a bad commercial.

“At least Mastercard has ‘Priceless.’ But come on … what does [Visa’s Super Bowl commercial] have to do with Visa?” he said.

Archived article by Matthew Hirsch