Super Bowl TV ads don't lead to online sales

Kim Kardashian stars in T-Mobile's Super Bowl commercial.
Kim Kardashian stars in T-Mobile's Super Bowl commercial.

Rocket Fuel's SVP says a spot at the big game doesn't give brands an economic edge

The Super Bowl is a definitive moment in the TV calendar for advertisers. It is the most watched sporting event on the planet, with 125 million viewers predicted worldwide this year.

But the cost of a 30-second TV spot during halftime has increased to an estimated $4.5 million this year, compared to 2011’s figure of $3.5 million.

Does it deliver in terms of driving business and sales for companies, as we are led to believe it does? I don’t believe it does anymore.

In the run-up to the game there are endless stories heavy on speculation and qualitative analysis but light on real data and methodology.

A recent study carried out by Rocket Fuel analyzed automotive companies that were responsible for placing the majority of TV ads during halftime in 2014, 2013 and 2012 against those that didn’t have any display ads at all during the games.

Initially it looked as if there was a 14% jump in online sales in the four weeks following Super Bowl among automotive advertisers. Not only this, but the effect was even stronger if the brand was not advertising a luxury vehicle.

However, when we delved a little deeper into the data it became difficult to attribute the uplift to the TV spot. The 14% increase was an industrywide trend that occurred week to week throughout 2014.

If Super Bowl advertising were actually driving this trend, we would expect a huge initial jump in online conversion rates immediately following the game rather than a general upward trend in the following weeks.

When we looked at available data on sales cycles for cars over that same period, it showed that the increase in conversion rates simply mirrored the monthly industrywide sales growth.

Instead, brands looking to gain maximum impact from the Super Bowl would do well to embrace a wider range of approaches to advertising surrounding the Super Bowl.

The news from Facebook this week that it will be selling real time ads based on the content of its users' posts is a welcome move toward a more targeted and effective way of working.

In the face of quantitative analysis, it may be time for marketers to punt the Super Bowl halftime TV spot and use data to drive their marketing decisions around the game.

Until then, we'll be distracted by BGADD (Big Game Attention Deficit Disorder), brought on by children, food, bathroom breaks, Kim Kardashian and conversation during the Super Bowl.

Dominic Trigg is the senior vice president, managing director Europe, of Rocket Fuel.

This article first appeared on

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