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Companies Wanting Immediate Sales Should Pass On Super Bowl Ads


Next we have an update on a Super Bowl scandal. No, we do not mean that story about the deflated balls; however, they may have been deflated. But it is a cheating scandal about people cheating themselves. NPR's Shankar Vedantam joins us each week on this program. He's here now to talk about it. Hi, Shankar.


INSKEEP: Who's being cheated?

VEDANTAM: The corporations that are paying for Super Bowl ads are paying somewhere north of $4 million for each 30-second spot, Steve. And I've recently come by two different pieces of research that suggests that these companies are either getting ripped off or they are ripping themselves off.

INSKEEP: What do you mean by that?

VEDANTAM: Well, it's a great time to be making ads if you're an ad company. And the ad companies clearly do very well at the Super Bowl because these ads get a lot of buzz and attention.

INSKEEP: Sure, for some people it's the whole game, people who don't care that much about that much about football.

VEDANTAM: Exactly, but for the companies that are actually paying the bills, it's not clear to me whether they're actually getting their money's worth. And here's why I think so. Martin Geisenberg (ph) recently analyzed how effective ads were around major sporting events in driving sales. Now, there's no question the ads drive sales. The question is, are you better off spending $4 million at the Super Bowl for a 30-second ad or buying several spots for that same amount of money at a less expensive time of the year?

Geisenberg analyzed 206 brands in the United Kingdom over a four-year period which featured these big sporting events, such as the Summer Olympics and the World Cup soccer finals. And he finds, in general, companies get less bang for their buck when they advertise during major sporting events. Now, it's possible that the companies are not looking for immediate sales; they are looking for brand recognition, and the sporting events allow them to do that. But looking specifically at the question of sales, it seems that companies can spend their money in smarter ways than spend their money at big sporting events.

INSKEEP: Trying to figure out why that would be because the cheaper ads in other programs or in other times of the year are just not reaching as many people. That's why they're cheaper. So why would the Super Bowl ad not be as effective as you would imagine for that $4 million?

VEDANTAM: Well, there are a couple of different reasons. One, Geisenberg thinks that being in sort of the hyper-excited state that people are as they're watching these big sporting events might not actually make you very conducive to processing the content of the ads. But there's also something else. Sascha Topolinski in Germany recently conducted a study. He wasn't studying the Super Bowl, but his research is spot on when it comes to describing how most Americans watch the Super Bowl. He finds that eating while you watch advertisements reduces the effects that advertising messages have on you.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Because the crunching of the potato chips makes it hard to hear the message.

VEDANTAM: He also has a fantastic name for this. He calls this oral interference. And he finds that the more people eat, the longer they chew...

INSKEEP: (Laughter) I'm trying to imagine the Super Bowl referee and what this signal looks like for calling oral interference on the field.

VEDANTAM: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: Anyway, go on, go on, go on.

VEDANTAM: Well, he finds that the more people eat, the longer they chew, the less likely they are to remember the names of consumer products being advertised. And I don't know about you, Steve, but my Super Bowl this weekend is going to involve significant amounts of oral interference.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) I wonder if something else is going on here. And that is salesmanship. It is image, the very thing that companies are selling. You're a car company; you buy an ad in the Super Bowl because you want people to feel good about Chryslers or Chevrolets or whatever it might be, and so you buy this ad. I wonder if the allure of the Super Bowl itself is drawing in advertisers to pay way too much for these commercial spots just 'cause they want to be part of that special.

VEDANTAM: Yeah, I think that's spot on, Steve. I think one thing as a listener and as a member of the audience I've often noticed is I remember the ads without actually remembering what they're advertising. So I know the ad is beautiful. I remember the story. I can remember the narrative of the ad without actually remembering what the consumer product is that's being sold to me.

INSKEEP: NPR's Shankar Vedantam.

VEDANTAM: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: A definite brand name here. You can follow him on Twitter @HiddenBrain. Follow this program @MorningEdition. Follow me @NPRinskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
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