This week has seen a frenzy of coverage of last Sunday's Superbowl ads. However, thinking about it, isn't this just one huge brand ego-trip? An advertising beauty contest with the contestants extortionately expensive 60 second bits of "sponsored entertainment", funded by the brand owners, but ultimately paid for by the shareholder. And at $1million a pop for the airtime, in addition to the cost of producing the creative masterpieces, the bill is a bloody big one.
Almost every blog I read has commented on which ad was best.Its hard to find any reference to effectiveness. Instead, the comments are about which ad is better. Business Week voted for Coke. Laura Ries for Bud. USA Today have a research-based ad hit parade and there's a whole site dedicated to hosting all the ads. I myself got caught up in the hysteria, commenting on the user-created ads for Dorito's.
But what about the bottom line benefits of all this? Does any of this pay off in building the business? Seth Godin seems to be one of the few to share the same concerns:
"The commercial aspect of this is fascinating as well. Who wins? Probably not the shareholders. Someone at Frito Lay told me that they can prove that enough people buy chips during halftime (they leave their house and race out to the store) that the ads pay for themselves. But insurance?
The winners, I think, are the agencies and the pundits and those that would like advertising to be more than it actually is."
Like all marketing, any innovation loses its power when its copied by everyone else. Apple got bang for their buck with their seminal 1984 Superbowl ad for the launch of the Mac, which in my book has never been bettered. It was an innovation in communication terms, being one of the first "blockbuster" ads. It was aired only once during the Superbowl, but re-played over and over again in the media. But even more importantly, the it was telling a product story about an innovation in personal computers that revolutionised the market.
The Superbowl is an extreme example of a malaise that happens every day in marketing teams around the world. All too often, communication is created without a clear brief about the business issue it is trying to address. They forget that their job to make money, not movies.