Iowa State University

News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777



Russell Laczniak, Marketing, (515) 294-9692,

Jay Newell, Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, (515) 294-3445,

Kay Palan, Marketing, (515) 294-9526,

Mike Ferlazzo, News Service, (515) 294-8986,

ISU professors assess best way to score in Super Bowl ads

AMES, Iowa -- The Super Bowl has become an American cultural phenomenon, which is why advertisers are willing to spend millions to capture the biggest television audience of the year. But just like the game, there can be big winners and losers among the advertisers, particularly with the rate for this year's Feb. 4 game being a record $2.6 million for a 30-second spot.

In spite of consumer technology that now allows viewers to "tune out" the ads, three Iowa State University professors who specialize in advertising and consumer behavior still find it to be a sound investment for those who can afford to advertise in the Super Bowl. That's because the Super Bowl telecast is one of the few times viewers actually look forward to seeing the ads -- making the ads part of the "show."

"They (Super Bowl ads) can still serve a purpose, and that's raising awareness and getting your name out there," said Kay Palan, associate dean, undergraduate programs, and an associate professor of marketing in the College of Business. "The companies that benefit the most are those that have mass-market appeal. The demographic is still people who are football fans, so the value of a Super Bowl ad isn't as good if the product doesn't fit that demographic."

Risk of super disappointment

But because of the hype surrounding Super Bowl ads, there's also a greater risk in joining the Super Bowl line-up.

"The Super Bowl is associated with the ads and is seen as something relevant, so audience expectations are ratcheted up too," said Russell Laczniak, Deans Faculty Fellow in Marketing at ISU, who also serves as editor for the Journal of Advertising. "That means it also raises the risk that the strategy may backfire because the expectations are so high."

"It's certainly easier to disappoint people," said Jay Newell, an assistant professor in ISU's Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, who has researched product placement. "There's corporate credibility on the line. If you're going to spend more than $2 million of the company's money, you want to make sure that you're perceived well through the audience reaction to that ad."

And lately, the ISU professors agree that high expectations may be a reason for the overall disappointment by viewers of the collective Super Bowl ads over the last three years. Many of those ads haven't been memorable past Super Sunday.

Perhaps a greater concern for advertisers is that their ad is memorable, but their product is not.

"It's not good to see an ad, and possibly enjoy it, but not remember what it's about," said Palan. "That's always a dilemma companies have has to worry about, particularly when they spend millions to both produce the ad and buy time, and may get nothing out of it. One of my favorite Super Bowl ads of all-time involved the cat round-up, but most people, myself included couldn't remember what the product was."

"It's counter-productive to create an ad where the audience can't remember the product," said Newell. "You're paying for guaranteed attention, so it's embarrassing to have a bad ad like that."

Memorable ads make 'em laugh

Sometimes a little embarrassment in an ad is a good thing -- particularly when it's funny. The experts agree that humor is still the best way to grab attention on Super Sunday.

"Humor, that's what people are looking for," said Laczniak. "If it's an ad that requires cognitive sensitivity, the audience is too busy guzzling beer and eating nachos to possibly figure that out. So if the ad's thought provoking, this may not be the audience for that."

"I think humor is absolutely the best and emotion is a very close second," said Newell. "Some past ads -- such as the Dove 'Real Women' ads -- hit an emotional chord. But as far as getting the high scores that come on Super Bowl Monday, humor goes -- it's a comedy festival."

Ultimately, the objective for Super Bowl advertisers is to play the name recognition game. If viewers remember a company or product, they may be more likely to take future action with it.

An increasing trend is trying to get the audience to take action within the context of the ad -- in some cases, to learn the outcome of a "cliffhanger" that was played out through the ads over the course of the game.

"The ad that requests a tie-in to the company's Web site can be effective," said Laczniak. "You use the ad to lead potential customers to your site, so it has some enhanced effectiveness. It particularly works with people with high involvement in the market."

"The word that advertisers use is engagement," said Newell. "What they're trying to do is develop relationships that are longer than the 30 seconds of a Super Bowl ad. The reason is that manufacturers want to have customers. In the past, advertisers were just seeking eyeballs, with the belief that if enough people were watching, it would result in sales. Now advertisers want people to watch and respond."

And what will the response to Super Bowl ads be this year? Stay tuned.



Russell Laczniak


Jay Newell


Kay Palan


"Humor, that's what people are looking for. If it's an ad that requires cognitive sensitivity, the audience is too busy guzzling beer and eating nachos to possibly figure that out. So if the ad's thought provoking, this (The Super Bowl) may not be the audience for that."

Russell Laczniak