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As symbolic to Super Bowl viewers as the climax of the American football season itself are the accompanying television advertisements that form the centrepiece of many companies’ annual campaigns. For the ninth consecutive year, faculty and students of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management have reviewed the game’s adverts and ranked them according to strategic criteria.
What started as a practical marketing exercise has now become a cornerstone in the academic calendar for Kellogg MBA students specialising in marketing. “Our goal was originally to engage students to think about whether these marketing initiatives are sound business decisions,” says Tim Calkins, a marketing professor who co-founded the Kellogg Super Bowl advertising review in 2005.
Prof Calkins argues that over the past decade, as television viewership more generally has fragmented with the rise of alternative media platforms, the Super Bowl’s significance to advertisers has grown. “It is the only time that a marketer can reach more than 100m consumers at the same moment,” he says, driving this year’s record prices - an average of $3.8m for a 30-second slot.
His panel, composed of around 60 students and faculty, concluded that six adverts - including a patriotic two-minute feature for Jeep and Korean popstar Psy’s endorsement of Wonderful Pistachios - deserved the highest ‘A’ grade. Watching the match together on campus, they scored each advert according to established strategic criteria that have been applied year-on-year. “Our review is unique because of its focus on whether the spot will build the brand, rather than on its artistic merit,” says Prof Calkins.
Although this year no adverts were awarded an ‘F’ grade - reserved only for the most derided - Prof Calkins laments the effort by BlackBerry, which re-branded the week before the match. “BlackBerry needed a big spot and they failed,” he says, “the [advert] lacked a reason for consumers to reach for a BlackBerry, which is exactly what they need.”
Thales Teixeira, assistant professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, has examined the effectiveness of using entertainment in television adverts. His research has concluded that while entertainment succeeds in attracting the attention of consumers, and in increasing their willingness to listen to adverts, its misuse can prove counter-productive to selling a product.
If entertainment is used before the brand is introduced, it competes with the brand message, Prof Teixeira says. If it is employed after the product has been introduced, consumers are more likely to purchase the product. He highlights this year’s Samsung advert as a successful example of incorporating the brand from the onset.
“The challenge with the Super Bowl is that you’ve got to be creative but also tie the advert to the brand,” says Prof Calkins, who concludes that companies are increasingly devoting great energy to make consumers connect with their brands on a personal level.
Informal engagement through social media is a notable feature of this year’s Super Bowl, he says, with Audi and Coca-Cola among a number of firms who conducted elaborate campaigns to engage consumers before match day. Volkswagen was one of many advertisers that pre-released their adverts. “The Super Bowl has now become a marketing event before, during and after the game,” Prof Calkins says, cautioning however that the success of these approaches remains to be seen.