Super-premium advertising opportunities: are they worth it?

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The US has the Super Bowl, and the UK has Christmas. No, not annual opportunities for families to come together (although they are that too) – but the biggest, most important annual advertising popularity contests. Advertisers shell out millions of dollars or pounds for Super Bowl spots or lavish Christmas-themed ads, hoping to go viral and drive substantial ROI. But are these super-expensive ads really worth the investment? 

Super Bowl ads: an American icon

The Super Bowl ads are an American institution, taking their place alongside pumpkin pie, Dolly Parton and the Statue of Liberty. Renowned for their massive and cultural impact, the ads are the third-most-popular aspect of watching the big game, ahead of even the halftime show – and it’s one of the very few occasions when consumers don’t skip the ads. So if advertisers can marry a great idea, perfect casting and superior execution, the cut-through is huge. However, the cost is also huge: the average cost for a 30-second spot in 2023 was a breathtaking $7 million.

Christmas ads: at the heart of the festive season

Christmas ads in the UK are a different kind of phenomenon. Whilst they are also ‘event advertising’, they don’t appear alongside a specific event, but instead in the run-up to Christmas and indeed Black Friday – the most lucrative time of year for most brands. The goal is to connect emotionally with consumers at a highly emotive time of year, telling a story to foster a deep connection between consumer and brand. They have become a part of the British psyche, ingrained in the culture and eagerly anticipated – in this way, those that deliver well drive brand loyalty over time. This has worked particularly well for brands like the department store John Lewis, which ‘invented’ the phenomenon of the Christmas ad back in the early 2010s, and whose name has become synonymous with Christmas shopping. Many brands activate the ad beyond the TV spot, creating experiences and products to extend the relationship with the consumer. UK Christmas ads differ from the Super Bowl in that they don’t appear alongside specific content, so the media investment is not as highly concentrated – although the investment over time can still be high at this expensive time of year. The AA forecasts that £9.5 billion ($12 billion) will be spent in media across the 2023 festive period (up 4.8% on 2022) and WARC predicts that over £1.5 billion ($1.9 billion) of that will be invested in TV.

The ads are expensive – but do they drive value?

So are these hugely expensive ‘event ads’ really worth it? Could the millions of dollars be spent more wisely elsewhere? The answer, as always, depends on the brand, but on the whole – for big brands with deep pockets – the answer is pretty much ‘yes’, they’re worth it.

In the US, advertisers who get their Super Bowl ads right can enjoy on average a 16% increase in word of mouth (both online and offline) for a month after the game, increasing to a 68% increase in online word of mouth in the three days following the game. The average ROI for the Superbowl is $4.60 per dollar spent, with many brands’ ROI in the double digits. It’s also pretty much the only opportunity to reach more than 115 million Americans in one fell swoop, in a setting where they actively want to watch ads.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the picture is more mixed. Some industry players will say that investing in a high-quality Christmas ad is absolutely worth it, especially when it cuts through the noise and sparks conversation. What’s more, for many brands (such as the aforementioned John Lewis), their absence will be noticed and will negatively impact on their brand health and perception – especially dangerous when competitors will undoubtedly be investing hard. On the other hand, there are those who believe that the consumer has become somewhat inured to the evocative, emotive, beautifully filmed Christmas ad – has it simply become an opportunity for the industry to pat itself on the back and justify its own existence?

Invest in performance instead?

In both cases, there is of course the option to invest the money that would otherwise be invested in an expensive TV ad into a deep and broad online campaign – especially at a time like Christmas, when driving sales is key. However, it is doubtful that dollars invested in this way would have the same impact as one big Super Bowl spot, or a beautiful Christmas ad with associated activations. Ads of this kind have huge brand-building power that will fuel the rest of the year’s activities.

The key: evaluate potential benefits versus the challenges

Ultimately, whether brands splash out on ‘event advertising’ - a spot at the Super Bowl, a Christmas ad or the equivalent in another country - boils down to the brand itself and its priorities. There’s no point investing in an expensive Christmas campaign if Christmas doesn’t align with your brand’s seasonality, and likewise if your consumer isn’t watching Superbowl, then why bother? The value of these investments hinges on factors such as target audience, brand objectives and available resources. Companies should carefully evaluate whether the potential benefits – such as reach, engagement and brand recognition – outweigh the costs and challenges associated with these iconic advertising opportunities. Done right, these ads really cut through - and are a unique opportunity if a brand wants to make a big splash.

value@ecimm.com

Image: Shutterstock/maxbelchenko

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