Viral Super Bowl Ads Mean Tyranny

Posted: Feb 1 2014, 2:49am CST | by , in Super Bowl


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Viral Super Bowl Ads Mean Tyranny

As brands and their advertisers gear up for their annual Raison d’etre–the Super Bowl with its massive audience–here is a fact they probably do not want dwell on: even if their fondest hopes are realized and an ad goes viral, it still doesn’t necessarily guarantee an uptick in sales.

And here’s another: the odds are worse if it is a Super Bowl ad.

The latter comes to us via a study by research firm Communicus earlier this month. It found that 80% of Super Bowl ads–those $4 million, 30-second spots–aired during the game do not increase purchases or purchase intent.

As it happens, we already knew that viral video ads are not automatic moneymakers for the brand in question. We just didn’t know how many failed to generate significant sales, even when launched from a platform like the Super Bowl.

The Evian Roller Babies

Remember, for example, the Evian roller babies ads from five years ago, once the most viewed online ad ever?

Adweek did an analysis of the ad’s impact on sales shortly after and the results were surprising even though this was during the depth of the recession when premium brands were not faring well at all. Said Adweek:

One achievement [the ad] didn’t pull off? A boost in U.S. sales. Evian lost market share as sales dropped 28 percent in each of the first two quarters although it reduced those declines to 26 percent in the third quarter and 19 percent in the fourth, according to Beverage Digest.

Adweek’s conclusion was that brands shouldn’t hold out high hopes for online video ads.

But it’s really not that simple, as even the Communicu’s study noted, pointing out that the Super Bowl can be a “terrific venue” to introduce new products or to build awareness and interest for “low awareness brands.”

For last year’s game, it said, strong performances by the commercials for Beck’s Sapphire, Budweiser Black Crown and Skechers, “demonstrates the potential for young brands to earn a robust return on their investment with a Super Bowl buy.”

Of course such ambivalent conclusions—occasionally a Super Bowl ad will go viral and increase sales, but usually they don’t—must drive marketers nuts. What, they must be asking through clenched and gritted teeth, is the differentiating factor?

Unfortunately for them it probably is a lot of things (how’s that for ambivalent). Experts will say the ad needs to emotionally resonate, needs to be funny, needs to be clever but not to talk down to the audience and needs to link to a greater theme than the mere buy-this-product message.

Brands also, I suspect, need to keep at it even if an initial effort doesn’t pay off.

Helllooo Ladies

Look at Procter & Gamble's Old Spice ads (“The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”) starring ex-football player and actor Isaiah Mustafa – another classic circa 2010.

News articles at the height of these ads’ popularity suggested that they weren’t resulting in all that great an uptick in sales.

P&G, though, insists they did. “Despite not airing during Superbowl XLIV, the ad was one of the most talked about commercials and helped to ignite Old Spice sales during a period of intense competitive activity,” it said in a fact sheet about the campaign.

The campaign is having a significant impact on Old Spice sales, both for body wash and the overall franchise. Old Spice has month over month strengthened its market position and is now the number one brand of body wash and deodorant in both sales and volume with growth in the high single/double digits.”

Whether the Isaiah Mustafa ads did or did not goose P&G’s Old Spice sales is not something we’ll ever really know. Actually given the difficulty linking ad campaigns to ROI, except in cases of direct marketing, P&G probably doesn’t know absolutely for sure.

One reason to think they feel pretty good that they have, though, is that P&G and its now famous ad shop Wieden+Kennedy has doubled down on its social media and online video campaigns. Over the years they launched a series of innovative video ad campaigns with the obligatory social media outreach, including The Man Your Man Could Smell Like v.2 when Mustafa responded to Tweets from fans and celebrities.

And so what do we find, just this week, on the No. 8 spot of Visible Measure’s weekly The Top 10 Viral Video Ads Chart? The Old Spice spot “Smellcome to Manhood.”

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