Year after year, corporations shell out millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads, and the price tag keeps on rising.

Professor Charles Weinberg of the UBC Sauder School of Business has studied how marketers use the Super Bowl to gain a leg-up on the competition, particularly in the movie industry, and says it pays off for some advertisers, but not all.

WeinbergWhy is the Super Bowl such a draw for advertisers?

The Super Bowl is distinctive because most people are watching it live instead of watching the recording on a PVR later on and skipping through all the commercials. And because of Super Bowl parties, you end up with rooms full of people all watching the entire event – and the ads are part of the show, so you’re more likely to get attention for the ads themselves.

Has social media changed the landscape?

There’s now a two-way street, as many Super Bowl ads drive traffic to websites and social media channels, and vice-versa, as some social media channels now are encouraging people to watch their Super Bowl ads. A 30-second ad is quite ephemeral, so social media is becoming a bigger part of the picture in order to build up excitement for the campaign, and to keep people interested in the brand after the ad has aired.

And then many brands are catching on to Super Bowl fever without paying Super Bowl prices for a TV ad, by advertising just on social media channels to catch people keeping up with the online chatter about the game. We’re seeing that at other events too like the Oscars, or longer-running events like the Olympics.

Is there extra pressure to do a really high-quality, entertaining ad?

An ordinary ad would just get lost in the fray and probably wouldn’t pay off. But marketers are getting smarter about how they use Super Bowl ads, so they only hire the best people to work on their campaigns. For some companies, one Super Bowl ad can be a massive component of their advertising budget – that was the case for Master Lock, a company that made its name as a national brand thanks to a Super Bowl spot.

But there is one downside to the hype around the Super Bowl ads: increasingly, both the advertiser and the ad agency want to be noticed. So the question is, will the ad always achieve the goals of the advertiser, or will the ad agency make something that looks amazing, but is too subtle in its branding or purpose?

How can movie marketers profit from paying for a Super Bowl spot?

It pays off for big budget movies, but not for the more modest ones. It’s a massive expense – the cost per thousand viewers is double what it is for a lot of other placements. It only pays for movies that already attract big crowds – they’ll get a boost to be even more successful.

The way it really pays off is that theatre owners see the Super Bowl ad, and figure it must be a high-demand movie. As more theatres sign up to show the film, people on the fence about seeing it are more likely to go.

A world leader in marketing research

Professor Weinberg is part of UBC Sauder’s Marketing and Behavioural Science Division, ranked sixth in the world for marketing research, according to the latest ranking released by the American Marketing Association. His colleagues include two professors ranked among the top five marketing researchers in the world.