Are Brands Still Spending Big for the Big Game?

What do 12.5 million pizzas, 1.33 billion chicken wings and 150 pounds of cheese have in common? They’ll all be consumed by the more than 110 million people projected to watch this Sunday’s “Big Game.” We all know which “Big Game” I’m talking about, but referencing it by name is grounds for a cease and desist letter from the NFL – and nobody wants that – so we will refer to it as the “Big Game” for the purpose of this post.

Did you know all but one of the 20 most watched television broadcasts in history are Big Game broadcasts? The series finale of M*A*S*H is the outlier, ranking eighth on the list. And since 2010, every Big Game has attracted more than 100 million viewers – that’s a lot of eyeballs. So it’s no wonder brands are willing to pay upwards of $3 million for a mere 30 seconds of airtime on advertising. And yes, that’s just for airtime. Add video production costs, content marketing, public relations and everything in between, and you’ll see brands spending upwards of $30 million from start to finish. That equates to $1 million per second, which is pretty wild. It begs the question: Is it really still worth it?

Ironically, house-hold names like Ford, Chevy, Gatorade, Reebok and Nike seem to be asking themselves the same question, and they’re sitting this one out. Others like Heinz have decided to remain involved, but move in a slightly different direction – the brand started an official petition to declare the day after the Big Game a holiday. But why? In today’s digital world of smart phones, social media and the 24-hour news cycle, few things are more valuable – or more sought after – than consumer attention. And with the right marketing strategy, today’s consumers can be targeted in mass quantities with pinpoint accuracy at any time, in any location, and for a lot less than $30 million. We help clients do that every day.

What’s more, the Big Game is a party for all brands involved, but it’s a crowded party and everyone is dressed to impress. No question, an audience exceeding 100 million viewers provides unparalleled opportunity for exposure, but how can brands really tell if their content will break through the clutter and stand out among the others? Can they properly quantify whether this Big Game advertisement was the touch point that helped open the pickle jar of conversions? Well, they can’t – not officially, at least – which is why some have begun leaking the content in advance of the Big Game – Honda, Avocados from Mexico, Audi and Mr. Clean have already released theirs. The early bird gets the worm, right?

Networks have noticed, too. This year, according to CNBC, CBS is allowing national advertisers to purchase a national TV spot and have their ads appear in real-time during its digital stream on desktops, tablets and through the CBS Sports app. In previous years, networks did not bundle the options or allow real-time ads.

All else aside, the Big Game is as synonymous with football as it is with advertising. Throughout the country, hundreds of friends, families, colleagues and peers will gather around the television set waiting for the next string of creative advertisements to air (although, my colleagues in Atlanta might pay more attention to the actual game than in previous years…say, since 1999). It’s become part of the tradition and a guaranteed topic of conversation for the following morning. And for content marketers, at the end of the day, there’s no right way to reach a mass audience. But there might be a better way to do so…