SBJ/January 31 - February 6, 2005/SBJ In Depth

Super chance for a blockbuster

Looking down the roster of advertisers for Super Bowl XXXIX, Anheuser-Busch has again bought out the beer category with an astounding five minutes of airtime on TV advertising’s biggest and costliest stage.

The second biggest category of Super Bowl

Related information:


Movies advertised during recent Super Bowls


Studios advertising in Super Bowl XXXIX


Super fans of movies


Taking on the game
advertisers isn’t one that immediately comes to mind. Six Hollywood studios have bought a total of at least eight 30-second ads. That means theatrical marketing is spending more than car marketers and fast food on the Super Bowl.

For movie studios, the Super Bowl has become the equivalent of buying a giant billboard on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

“It’s become an essential part of marketing a blockbuster movie,” said BBDO West President Tom Hollerbach. “For big-event movies with very broad audiences, it’s probably the best place to advertise.”

BBDO client MGM has a Super Bowl ad buy, but as of press time it hadn’t revealed what movie it will be plugging.

Given the nature of the Super Bowl, where the event is bigger than the game, perhaps the biggest surprise is that it took the Hollywood hypemasters until relatively recently to become one of the game’s biggest advertisers. Now they’ve discovered what other marketers knew: as the best and biggest television audience in America, the Super Bowl can be a great launch pad.

Making an impression

Disney’s Buena Vista Pictures, along with MGM, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros., are paying upward of $70,000 a second to ply their wares on this Sunday’s Fox broadcast.

Of course there’s ego in any Super Bowl ad buy.

A Super Bowl ad for “Independence Day” helped fire up box office sales and sparked interest in other studios to advertise during the game.
“It’s an image campaign for the studios as much as anything,” said Brad Adgate, senior vice president and director of research at Horizon Media, “and just like every other Super Bowl ad, it’s an event more than an ad and Hollywood loves blockbusters.”

In Super Bowl XXXIX, Sony is plugging “Hitch,” a Will Smith vehicle opening the weekend after the Super Bowl. Buena Vista is advertising “The Pacifier,” a Vin Diesel comedy being released in early March.

“It’s still the closest you can come to reaching everyone in one shot using TV advertising,” said Oren Aviv, president of Buena Vista Pictures Marketing.

Still, many movies advertised on the Super Bowl won’t open for three months or more. The debate is whether consumers will remember in July a $2.4 million ad from early February. Certainly, no other product category in the Super Bowl advertises for something that won’t even be on the shelf until the seasons change twice.

With six studios and more than that many films being advertised, there’s debate as to whether even a Super Bowl ad can be recalled five months later.

“It’s the one time of year viewers pay close attention to commercials,” said Larry Novenstern, senior vice president and director of national buying at ad agency Deutsch. “But you’re trying to hold a spot in consumers’ consciousness from February until July in some cases.”

One reason studios hype their summer blockbusters on the Super Bowl is the success of “Independence Day,” the movie that gave the Super Bowl legitimacy as a theatrical marketing vehicle.

The 1996 Fox production, a sci-fi thriller featuring Will Smith, didn’t open until July, but its Super Bowl ad included a scene of the White House being blown to bits — a disconcerting image that apparently became indelible to many viewers.

The ad for “Independence Day” cost $1.2 million and the movie grossed $306 million in the United States. Now that’s a return on investment.

“That ‘Independence Day’ spot had the same impact for movie marketing that the ‘1984’ Apple spot had for technology,” said Aviv, citing an ad generally regarded as the greatest in Super Bowl history. “It defined the kind of event-movie marketing the Super Bowl could be used for.”

Since then, many studios have decided that a Super Bowl ad is a requisite marketing pillar for any summer blockbuster.

“For the studios, it’s just a way of waving the flag to let people know they have a blockbuster coming,” said John Bogusz, executive vice president of sports sales at CBS. “Any company that advertises in the Super Bowl is asking people to stand up and take notice as much as anything.”

A good buy?

Fox will pull in somewhere north of $16 million from the movie category this year. For all that money, there’s still division about whether all that flag waving works if the film advertised isn’t opening soon after the game.

“A-B’s five minutes [of Super Bowl ads] make enormous sense, but advertising a movie three or four months out makes no advertising sense and is just motivated by ego,” said Peter Sealy, a professor at the University of California- Berkeley and the former president of marketing and distribution at Columbia Pictures.

Paramount will pitch “War of the Worlds,” starring Tom Cruise, during this year’s game.
“It’s kind of like the dot-com era, where it was just expected of the big players,” Sealy said. “New movies are coming out every week, so films are one of the most immediate purchase decisions consumers are faced with, so it makes no sense to advertise something that far out.”

Still, others believe that the reach offered by any Super Bowl ad, combined with the communal viewing experience, makes it an efficient buy.

“The notion that 10 or more people at a Super Bowl party will be talking to each other after a movie ad in the Super Bowl, saying ‘I’ve got to see that,’ is why studios pay the money that they do,” said Ed Erhardt, president of customer marketing and sales at ABC Sports.

Some of the most comprehensive academic research on the subject has been authored by Rama Yelkur and Charles Tomkovick, management and marketing professors at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

In their original study, published in The Journal of Advertising Research, they found that the average U.S. box office revenue for movies advertised in Super Bowls from 1998-2001 was about $105 million, almost double that of major non-Super Bowl-promoted movies during that same time. For 2002-2004 Super Bowl movies, this average rose to nearly $110 million and, again, revenue for major non-Super Bowl-promoted movies during 2002-2004 was significantly less.

Yelkur and Tomkovick also found a “statistically significant” correlation among the heavy movie-consuming high school and college ages between seeing a Super Bowl movie ad once and interest in attending that movie.

“That’s a better result than 80 percent of the brands that advertise during the game,” Tomkovick said.

Most movie marketers believe that a film has to aim at a general audience to be worth the cost of a Super Bowl ad. Tomkovick differs, saying that to do well, a Super Bowl movie needs to be skewed toward males 13-18 and be an action or comedy film.

As for how far in advance a film should be touted? “We have long known that the effects of advertising can last up to nine months or even longer,” Tomkovick said.

“The Longest Yard” is an obvious choice for this year’s Super Bowl advertising lineup.
Even amongst its practitioners there’s some debate on this point. While Buena Vista Pictures’ Aviv generally believes a movie opening soon after the Super Bowl ad receives the most benefit, he acknowledges, “If you have brand-name stars like Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg or a title that everyone knows, like ‘War of the Worlds’ [the remake of which will include that acting and directing talent and be released this summer by Paramount]‚ I could be convinced that a Super Bowl ad is appropriate.”

“Studios run trailers [in theaters] months out and you would have to run an incredible amount of those to accumulate a Super Bowl-sized audience,” Erhardt said. “So you can make a pretty good case for efficiency.”

For better or worse, paying the top rate in advertising is indicative of how much theatrical marketing has changed. With marketing budgets sometimes approaching half the cost of the movie itself, and much of a film’s profit now built into the subsequent DVD release, the nature of theatrical marketing is profoundly different. So it shouldn’t be surprising that there are more films than automobiles advertised during the Super Bowl.

“Marketing budgets for films are so big now that it’s changed the industry’s focus,” said Horizon Media’s Adgate. “When a Woody Allen movie came out 20 years ago, people would ask if it was funny; today they’d ask how it did at the box office.”

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