The Insights Blog

How to watch Super Bowl ads like a CMO

How to watch Super Bowl ads like a CMO

super bowl sunday

The world’s annual football and advertising celebration is just days away! Globally around 150 million people will watch the Super Bowl. Roughly 100 million people in the US alone will watch! The event is one of the world’s weirdest annual affairs including the spectacle of the game, the personalities involved, big ticket half-time performers and of course the annual commercial fest.

The commercials are a special part of the experience. Big advertisers take big swings; celebrities are everywhere; and every year there are some ads that take the world of social media by storm. The media can’t get enough of the Super Bowl and every year there are pre and post ratings of which commercials consumers like the most and talking heads everywhere weigh in on their views of the ads’ effectiveness.

Which is all fun… yet how do CMOs watch these commercials?

CMOs put themselves in the shoes of the marketers that are running the commercial.

To put ourselves in the shoes of the marketer running the Super Bowl spot, let’s first set the stage with the reality of Super Bowl advertising. A 30-second commercial during the 2022 Super Bowl will cost an advertiser an average of $7 million. And the advertiser will need a commercial to air. Not just any commercial, but a Super Bowl quality spot. Production of that commercial will cost a minimum of $750,000 and many advertisers will spend many times that on their spots. And the agency needs to get paid for creating the ad.

Plus, an advertiser shouldn’t approach advertising on the Super Bowl without a significant marketing plan aimed at getting the most out of the Super Bowl investment. Yes, Super Bowl ads need their own marketing plan! This additional support includes social media activity pre, during and post Super Bowl; public relations media relations work; influencer efforts and experiential events. Let’s say the total, all-in, is a minimum of $8.5 million, before the agency gets paid.

What does it mean to spend more than $8.5 million of your marketing budget on one effort? It means it better work! And, in most cases, it better not represent the majority of your marketing budget or you are essentially gambling with your budget, business, and career. So – how much of your marketing budget can you put at risk? 5%? 10%? Few marketers can risk more than 10% in 2022 given the demands of the C-suite and Wall Street. So – if a Super Bowl effort costs a minimum of $8.5 million, and your stomach for risk is 10% of your budget, you need an $85 million marketing budget to consider Super Bowl advertising. If your stomach for risk is 5% of your budget, you need a $170 million budget. And that is the starting point for how CMOs look at Super Bowl advertising: they ask themselves “would I spend my budget on this if I was running that business?”

What is the strategy?

Next, CMOs naturally try to imagine what the strategy is behind the spot. What’s the key business issue that the investment is meant to help address? Is it awareness, brand building, and/or some kind of specific response?

CMOs often think in terms of “think, feel, do”. They are hoping their teams have defined the role of advertising along the lines of:

What do I want the target audience to think when they see our advertising?
What do I want the target audience to feel when they see our advertising?
What do I want our target audience to do when they see our advertising?

With good advertising, this is all pretty obvious. Try it as you watch the Super Bowl ads!

How will this advertising work?

How will this advertising drive the business? Remember, no one wants to invest in advertising. Rather, they want a business outcome. How will the creative advance the brand’s business? Is it by building brand equity that can enhance more performance centric tactics? Will it differentiate the brand from competition so that the brand is more likely to be the brand of choice? Great CMOs relentlessly think about the impact of their investments, including their commercials.

Why will this advertising work?

This is usually a knee jerk, gut reaction. But – experienced marketers have those knee jerk reactions based on their beliefs, experiences and philosophies. They are programmed to consider what makes this advertising special? Is it the uniqueness of the idea, the brilliance of the production or talent, or is it leveraging deep and powerful consumer insights to help connect the brand’s message with its audience? If it is not obvious, they won’t think much more about it.

What won’t CMOs do?

They won’t think too much about the popularity of the commercials as entertainment. And they won’t pay much attention to the “experts”.

Have fun watching the Super Bowl – and pretend you’re the CMO

It’s fun to second guess. And harmless. So – enjoy the game, the halftime show and the ads… and evaluate the ads like a CMO might.

Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Zillow Group, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Ulta Beauty, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.