Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Super Bowl 2015: Professors vs. Researchers



Since a good researcher always gives attribution, I want to give credit properly. The title of this column was taken from Tom Lehrer’s satiric song, “Bright College Days,” originally composed as a song for graduates to sing at reunions.

But it occurred to me it was an equally appropriate phrase to describe some Business School Professors when they pontificate about the real marketplace. Why gripe about this? Well, every year Brand Keys conducts our Super Bowl Ad Engagement survey. It measures not whether people just see the ad for a brand, and more than if they just liked the ad, but whether the ad engages them.

By “engages” we mean did the viewers of this ad come away with a feeling that the brand better meets the expectations they hold for the Ideal in the category in which the brand competes. Would they watch and behave better toward the brand? Would they feel the brand was doing something that that made them say, “Wow, what a great brand!” as opposed to “Wow, that was a funny/sad ad, and I think I should share that with my Mom/sister/100,000 Facebook friends because they all like Puppies. She doesn’t drink beer, and I wouldn't buy that brand of beer and none of my friends do either, but it was sure a funny/sad commercial. I think I’ll tweet about it!”

As most of the post-game ratings just have to do with awareness and/or creative reactions and not the criteria that counts – does the brand do well in the marketplace because of this ad – few marketers (and even fewer of the Business School folks) actually bother to look back and see what the market effects – Bayesian or otherwise – turned out to be.

OK, so why grumble? Why not be content wit the old clichĂ© “Those who can, do. Those who can’t teach”? Well, I read something that got me going. It was a column about the Super Bowl from one of those ivy-covered professors. I’m not going to give you their name or school – the quality of mercy is not strained even in the research industry – but here are some things that were asserted, and how a real-world research practitioner sees it. I’ve paraphrased their extraordinarily optimistic view of Super Bowl advertising, and there were not caveats or demurs. As a researcher of some experience and repute, I think I’ve fairly captured their view (indicated in bold).

The Super Bowl is a really good opportunity for brands.
Well, to be fair, for some brands, but not all brands. In fact, not for most brands, no matter what the MBA profs assert. Especially not if you’re expecting to see some actual returns in the actual marketplace, short-term or long-term.

You reach an immense audience.
True. The largest audience in human history, but not everyone is your brand’s target audience, and some might have been on a beer run when your brand’s commercial ran. No, seriously, hasn’t anyone told these guys that awareness is the longest way to profitability there is? The awareness model is not only outdated in today’s Daedalean digi-verse, but there are questions as to its soundness even in simpler times. And as some YouTube spots receive 60,000,000+ views, if exposure is all you want, there’s lots cheaper ways than a 30-second Super Bowl spot. But more about that below. (BTW, we are aware that some of the smaller brands break open the marketing piggy bank to buy a spot hoping to create some buzz. But buzz doth not bottom-line engagement make.)

The Super Bowl can drive customer engagement.
Well, that depends on how you define “engagement.” The whole advertising exercise is, or should be, about benefiting the brand. You know, getting people to think you’re better than the competition. Buying more of you more often. Making money. Historically speaking, that doesn’t transpire for almost half the brands that spend their gabillions of dollars for production and time. Engagement is not just getting it out there or even getting it out there and having people tweet about it. It’s getting it out there and selling something!

The Super Bowl provides you with a really good platform for integrating social media.
Yeah, so? As mentioned, that only matters if counting tweets and shares and likes actually correlated with real brand engagement and market effects, and that is more the exception than the rule. Here’s an example from last year, for a smaller brand, the massively socially-networked SodaStream commercial starring the massively sexy Scarlet Johansson.

First, that commercial (and others) are so reliant on buzz in order to feel secure about their effort, that it was released online before the actual game. Kind of defeats the argument about the immense Super Bowl audience, but OK, let’s leave it at that, and say that last year, all anybody could share/tweet/talk and watch on YouTube was the Scarlet Johansson SodaStream commercial. We will, for the record and any textbooks, totally acknowledge that SodaStream’s entry was immensely entertaining.

But according to our professor, those commercials would qualify as “engaging.” And while sex may sell, the commercial was not engaging for the brand as we define it from a behavioral perspective. Revenue for the company was down 13%; U.S. sales were down 41%. The company was forced to close one of their companies and they are currently repositioning the home soda maker as a “sparkling water maker.” This same pattern and bottom-lines showed up for bigger brands and perennial Super Bowl advertisers like Budweiser, McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola. Entertainment is no replacement for brand engagement. Oh, by the way, we don’t think that they are mutually exclusive. The best advertising is both, but if you only have one play, go with “engagement.”

Finally, advertising on the Super Bowl declares that the company is committed to investing in the brand and growing their market share.
Well, not entirely. Sure they’re committed, but based on the actual market results, some brand managers should be committed. OK, old Groucho Marx joke, but a couple of things: First, the brands that perennially advertise on the Super Bowl are pretty much known by most sentient beings already, and in this century are mostly expected by consumers to show up for the big game. It isn’t a surprise to them that Doritos is there again this year or one of the film studios is promoting a new movie. More importantly, it often turns out to be a pretty bad investment if the brand was expecting to influence consumer behavior and grow their profits and market share. Just ask the entertaining SodaStream. Or sentimental Budweiser, the diverting McDonald’s, or equally enjoyable Coca Cola. For all the creative kudos and social shares, they’re not doing so hot in the marketplace these days.

These comments aren’t schadenfreude. They are market realities. There’s a bottom line for brands looking to successfully invest in any event like the Super Bowl that those of us that do this day in and day out really understand: unless your advertising can create emotional brand engagement, it doesn’t matter how big the audience is because you may be spending a lot of money just to entertain a lot of people. Which is a really nice thing to do, but – outside of the classroom – ultimately is not the outcome brands are really looking for.


So I invite all of you to think about what I’ve said about “engagement” and check back on the results of this year’s Brand Keys Super Bowl Ad Engagement study, which will be released next week and see how things really turn out. For the professors out there evangelizing the Super Bowl, I think it’s fair to remind them that while there may not be an “I” in “TEAM,” there is one in Return-On-Investment!


Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: brandkeys.com. Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

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