Super Bowl Ad Effectiveness: What’s the Penalty for Oral Interference?

Super Bowl party

The Paine of Measurement —

I had to put down my coffee and turn up the radio. NPR’s Science Correspondent Shankar Vedantam (@hiddenbrain) had just posed the question: Is a company better off spending big money for a single Super Bowl ad, or buying several spots for the same amount of money at a less expensive time of the year?

It’s the sort of question we measurement geeks think about all the time. Guess what? The research says no, companies are not better off investing in Super Bowl ads. Not only does the research show that sales do not increase for advertisers on major sporting events, but the social aspects of those events might actually discourage you from remembering the message.

Of course, one might argue that many of the advertisers on this year’s Super Bowl were there to drive buzz rather than sales. But ultimately doesn’t their investment have to have some bottom line benefit in terms of market share?

As it happens, research by Dr. Sascha Topolinski at the Social Cognition Center in Cologne, Germany, revealed that eating while you watch advertisements reduces the effects of advertising messages on you. Apparently when your brain is focusing on the taste and texture of that Doritos chip and the guacamole, it forgets what brand is shouting at you on the TV. Apparently there’s something called “oral interference” that kicks in, so that the more you chew the less likely you are to remember the names of the products being advertised.

I sure hope someone somewhere is measuring the “oral interference” from Sunday’s game. All those ribs and plates of lasagna—never mind the noise of beer and wine bottles being opened. No wonder no one remembers any of it.

We in PR and social media are constantly asked: “What does PR do for the bottom line?” For a great many programs, there isn’t an easy answer. Sure, good relationships save money in terms of lower legal costs and higher retention and renewal rates, but that is so long term. Where is the immediate ROI?

We can ask the same for the millions spent on Super Bowl ads. If they aren’t helping sales and it’s all about the “buzz,” then wouldn’t good old-fashioned PR supplemented with some effective social media be far more effective?

Hey, I’ve got an idea: Let’s measure that. Let’s take the PR and social spend around the Super Bowl and compare the cost per message communicated with the $4.5 million for 30 seconds of air time. If it is about sales, then let’s compare the cost per qualified lead that Chevy or Mophie got compared to the cost per lead from earned media.

Maybe someone has done this already (if so, let me know). Or maybe there’s too much oral interference going on at those Madison Avenue lunches to remember this message. ∞

(Thanks to Marketing Party for the image.)

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Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.