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Iowa State experts comment on Super Bowl advertising

AMES, Iowa -- Companies wishing to place their messages before the American consumer during this year's Super Bowl game will pay a record $2.4 million per 30-second spot. Firms are willing to pay such premiums because of the large TV audience and expectation by viewers that the ads will be edgy, innovative and entertaining.

Iowa State experts offer the following overview of the Super Bowl advertising phenomenon:

Advertising's a larger draw for some than the game

Kay Palan, associate professor of marketing and interim associate dean for undergraduate programs at Iowa State's College of Business, said, "Almost as many people watch the Super Bowl for the ads as for the game itself." She said advertisers have been able to create "a need" in viewers to be aware of the ads. Sometimes, however, the ads are more memorable than the product advertised. "Remember the herding cats ad?" she asked. Historically, Palan said, Super Bowl ads are opportunities for the big guns in advertising to roll out their most creative projects. "Often, new campaigns, brands or products are introduced during the Super Bowl because of the immediate exposure and guaranteed large audience."

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Ability to link "execution" of ad to "message" key to success

The danger is in a creative concept that sacrifices the brand message in favor of flash or graphic glitz, said Russ Laczniak, professor of marketing at Iowa State's College of Business. Super Bowl advertisers "run the risk of having the consumer focus on the 'executional' (e.g., humor) aspects of the ad as opposed to the main message they want to convey (branding)." Laczniak said the "winners are the ads that link the two together. Consumers have been trained by the hype over so many years that they pay attention to a degree that is much greater than normal, thus providing the opportunity for impact."

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Entertainment value of Super Bowl ads camouflage persuasive messages

Douglas Gentile, assistant professor of psychology in Iowa State's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said, "Advertisers have honed their craft well during the last 100 years, becoming masters of subtle persuasion who use entertainment to camouflage their message." This is especially true for Super Bowl advertising, Gentile said. "American consumers will spend days discussing Super Bowl ads over the water cooler and having them rated and dissected on TV talk and news shows, which is an effective way of getting those same consumers to forget about the persuasive content." Gentile said one of the most reliable research findings about advertising is called the "third-person effect." "In essence, if you ask a roomful of people whether they believe advertisements affect people a lot, they will all say yes, but when you ask them if they believe advertisements affect them personally, they say no," he said. And, Gentile noted, some memorable ads from past Super Bowls (remember the frogs promoting beer?) actually have an impact on children. Gentile conducted a study with more than 1,500 seventh- to 12th-graders. "We found that the amount of money spent advertising various brands of beer is the best predictor of what brands of beer children know about, have positive attitudes about, and drink," Gentile said. He added that the study didn't look at whether companies actually were targeting children, "but, regardless, they are hitting them."

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Super Bowl nurtured as "event" but not all products pitch equally well

Joel Geske, associate professor of advertising in Iowa State's Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, said, "The Super Bowl really has become more of an event than just a media advertising opportunity." Geske said events are designed to make people feel good about a product or service -- to generate a positive attitude. But, he cautioned, Super Bowl advertising isn't for everyone. "We have some products that need a rational sell and some that need an emotional sell," Geske said. "The Super Bowl is a time for people to have fun and they are in a receptive, emotional state of mind. So, products like beer, chips, pizza, fashion/apparel are good candidates because we attempt to sell those products through emotions." He added that humor works well in Super Bowl advertising because it adds to the overall "fun" of the game. "People like to laugh, feel good, get a little reward for watching. If the product message is embedded in this, the ad will work. Sometimes, the message gets lost and only the entertainment is remembered."

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