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Ask the Expert: Super Bowl Edition

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Lubin Professor Paul Kurnit talks advertising’s biggest stage, letting us know what to watch for during the Super Bowl’s so-called “breaks in the action.”

The Super Bowl isn’t just the holy grail of football and guacamole intake—it’s also a pretty big deal for the advertising industry. To prepare for this year’s smorgasbord of commercial consumption, we chatted with Pace’s resident advertising expert and Lubin Clinical Professor of Marketing Paul Kurnit—who gave us illuminating insight as to what we should expect to see on Super Bowl Sunday.

Q: The Super Bowl is widely considered the year’s biggest event for advertising. Do you think the hype surrounding Super Bowl ads is justified or overblown?

Professor Kurnit: The Super Bowl is advertising’s biggest stage. It’s been that way for a long time and it’s even more so now with the ability of consumers to time shift their viewing. This is one event that gets watched in real time and gets about 110 million viewers per year—there isn’t a single event on television that comes anywhere close. Not to mention it gets tremendous buzz from consumers who on Super Bowl day become advertising experts—everybody’s got a point of a view about the ads.

The hype is justified, AND the hype is overblown—because with the audience size relatively the same every year, the price of the advertising is increasing geometrically. Marketers are willing to pay for this valuable commercial time, and the market is dictating pricing that is not at all in line with the audience size. It has been hockey-sticking upwards—$4 million per 30 seconds two years ago, $4.5 million last year, $5 million this year—in terms of what the numbers can command for a spot.

Q: Do you think the formula for success for a Super Bowl ad differs from that of a less viewed television spot?

Professor Kurnit: The intention of a Super Bowl spot is to get talk value and buzz. What a lot of advertisers do is to use the Super Bowl as a showcase for new products, new technology, or new product features. Toyota Prius, for example, will be running a 90 second spot talking about new technology for their Prius. I’ve seen the spot because it’s already available online, and I actually thought it was pretty boring. It’s one thing to count the bells of whistles of a new product or innovation. It’s another thing to do it in a really interesting, branded way. So, roughly $15 million to put people to sleep? Hmm.

The most viral Super bowl ad ever was the Darth Vader Volkswagen spot from a couple of years ago. It got something like, 60 million added hits. The irony of that spot was that virtually everyone loved the commercial, but virtually no one knew what car it was for. If you do advertising that is talking about new benefits or innovations—or that is fun, interesting, dramatic, and memorable—shame on you if you don’t make sure your product brand is fully linked to the commercial.

Q: Are there any particular trends or themes that you think will dominate this year’s Super Bowl advertisements?

Professor Kurnit: We’ve seen a lot of commercials in the past that were comedic, silly, and stupid, aiming for the laughs and the lowest common denominator. Thankfully, I think there’s going to be less of that this time around. We’ve also seen a lot of hyper-sexualization in the past that’s overwhelmed the product for sale. I think we’re going to see less of that, as well. I think we’ll likely see more heartfelt emotion-driving spots. This has been a trend that’s emerged over the past few years. It’s a tough world out there and people want to see and feel positive human relationships appropriately linked to brands. Coca-Cola has just broken a new campaign called “Taste the Feeling,” for example which is much more on-product and relationship-focused than their recent and longstanding “Open Happiness” campaign.

Q: What is your favorite Super Bowl commercial of all-time?

Professor Kurnit: There are two. My first is what many have called the greatest Super Bowl commercial of all time. That was the 1984 Apple commercial. The genius of the commercial is that they tapped into George Orwell’s book 1984—the year the Macintosh was introduced. The commercial cost $1 million to produce and $1 million to run and it only ran once. It is really staggering what a gutsy play that was. It set the stage for Apple innovation that has driven the brand ever since. Everyone associated in advertising in any way, shape, or form knows that commercial.

The other one is a more emotional play—the Coca-Cola Mean Joe Green commercial. That was so unexpected in terms of the warmth of emotion, and tapping into the character of Mean Joe Green, and the kid who was such a fan. The commercial became totally iconic because the gift of a Coke turned Mean Joe into a sympathetic character with the reward for the adoring fan Mean Joe’s football jersey. Every year, it wins top prize from consumers as being Super Bowl’s best throughout the years.