Super Bowl Ads: Scoring the Value

This year’s lineup of Super Bowl advertisers looks similar to years past.  The usual bevy of automotive, beer, salty snack, and carbonated beverage brands will be prominently featured.  The average cost of a 30-second spot is now $3.5 million, an increase of 17% compared to a year ago.

The relevance and general merit of airing a Super Bowl spot is widely debated by marketing executives.  Each advertiser calculates their own set of metrics and rules for justifying the cost of running a Super Bowl commercial.  So let’s ask a simple question.  Based on the composition and size of the overall Super Bowl viewing audience, does it make sense for a brand like Volkswagen to spend $3.5 million on a 30-second spot?

Of course there are multiple ways to go about answering this question.  One approach is to determine the percentage of potential Volkswagen buyers who are likely to watch the Super Bowl.  In other words, to what degree does the Super Bowl audience reach a likely Volkswagen buyer?  Put into direct marketing terms, how much lift in likelihood to purchase a Volkswagen is delivered when “targeting” Super Bowl viewers?  The term “targeting” is used loosely given that the Super Bowl is watched by over 100 million people.  Experian Marketing Services has developed a methodology for deriving such an estimate using data from Experian Simmons.  It’s called the Super Bowl Ad Relevancy (SBAR) score.

Based on a combination of brand purchasing behaviors, universe of brand users, and Super Bowl viewership statistics, Volkswagen has a SBAR score of 129.  That means there is a hypothetical 29% lift in purchase likelihood for the brand when targeting the Super Bowl audience.  When this methodology is applied to all of this year’s brand advertisers, the top three SBAR scores are for Audi, Cars.com, and Bridgestone.  At the bottom of the list are Kia, Dannon, and H&M.  Brands such as Chrysler, Honda, Pepsi, and Doritos fall in the middle.

Super Bowl Ad Relevancy (SBAR) Score
Brand Top
SBAR Scores
Brand Bottom
SBAR Scores
Audi 170 Kia 89
Cars.com 146 Dannon 102
Bridgestone 136 H&M 104
Budweiser 136 Skechers 105
Volkswagen 129 Toyota 105
Best Buy 128 Hyundai 106
CareerBuilder.com 121 Coke 106
M&M’s 121 Teleflora.com 108
Source: Experian Marketing Services


It’s interesting to note that all of the brands, with the exception of Kia, are expected to see positive lift from targeting Super Bowl viewers.  In Kia’s case, the SBAR score indicates the brand could achieve better lift by targeting non-Super Bowl viewers.  This doesn’t sound so off base.  Kia has invested significant resources targeting NBA fans by signing Los Angeles Clippers all-star Blake Griffin to a multiyear sponsorship deal.  The brand generated significant buzz at last year’s NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest when Griffin’s winning dunk had him soaring over the hood of a shiny new Kia Optima.  The scene was later turned into a KIA commercial.

In theory, brands with high SBAR scores will get the most bang out of their Super Bowl advertising bucks.  However, just as in direct marketing, the content and delivery style of the message play a very important role in determining the ad’s overall effectiveness.

Based on the high price tag for a 30-second commercial, one could argue that Audi is “wasting” money by advertising during the Super Bowl because the market size of potential Audi buyers is relatively small compared to other brands like Coke and Pepsi.  By rescaling the SBAR score to take into consideration the number of likely buyers, the picture changes.  Now we’re looking at the cost of the ad per thousand likely buyers reached.  Assuming that each advertiser runs a single 30-second spot, the top three brands (lowest cost per likely buyer) are Coke, Doritos, and M&M’s.  The bottom three brands (highest cost per likely buyer) are Teleflora.com, Audi, and Kia.  But considering the low price point for a six-pack of Coke and a bag of Doritos or M&M’s versus the starting price for an Audi or Kia, the economics and overall ROI from the ad could result in any of these brands coming out as a winner.

Just as the SBAR could be used to quantify the potential effectiveness of airing a Super Bowl ad, the Quarterback Rating (QBR) is used to judge the performance of an NFL quarterback.  Unfortunately, it’s not always true that the brand with the highest SBAR wins.  There are multiple factors to consider when judging the performance of a Super Bowl commercial.  But in this year’s Super Bowl, it’s highly likely that the quarterback with the highest QBR will lead his team to victory.