Friday, February 03, 2012

The Negative Turn On-to-Turn-Off Ratio of Super Bowl Ads

Understanding how viewers of the Super Bowl perceive those incredibly expensive television advertisements that run during each game may provide a glimpse into why advertising of any kind has now become counterproductive based on the annual survey by

Three out of four viewers consider Super Bowl ads merely as entertainment which may mean they capture more attention than the 6.5 second average viewers pay to any advertisement. But, based on five year averages, nearly 2 out of every 10 viewers would prefer that advertisers save their money and pass the savings along to consumers; and more than four out of every 10 viewers consider the ads as either a bother, an interruption or something that merely makes the game take too long.

An average of 7.8% viewers say the ads influenced them to buy products from the advertisers.  That's not a bad percentage until you realize that for every viewer the advertisers are motivating to do what the ads are meant to accomplish, they are turning off three others.

The very purpose of any advertising ($3.5 million per 30 second ad during the Super Bowl) is negated when it turns off more people than it turns on.  There are far too many other elements of marketing these day, such as earned media which is sometimes called publicity, that don't run this risk; and this is the premise behind an excellent book entitled The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR.

Still, at a 3 to 1 turn off-to-turn-on ratio the television ads during the Super Bowl are much less damaging to a brand than advertising put up on huge stationary outdoor roadside billboards which, in North Carolina, actually turn off eight drivers/passengers for every one person who finds them useful.
When an organization or business goes to the trouble of placing one of the 5,000 ads now viewed by the average person in a day, the objective, at the very minimum, is to motivate consumers without creating enemies for product, service or brand.

Owners of advertising mediums such as television or outdoor billboards are typically not motivated to explain this risk to potential advertisers because the negative ratio of consumers they might motivate to consumers they turn off accrues only to the business or organization placing the advertisement.
With the exception of outdoor advertising, where the message is the only content, most of us rely on advertising to subsidize news, sports and entertainment.  Increasingly, though, there are successful models built on giving consumers the option of paying a small fee to avoid advertising as I just did on

This raises the question about whatever happened to cable television? When I first learned about it in the mid-1970s it was promoted as a subscription-to-view medium free of the constant ad interruptions on broadcast television, but apparently greed quickly made that unique selling proposition extinct. Now that they are losing several hundred thousand subscribers each quarter to streaming (9% of all subscribers to date with another 11% already considering it,)  it may not be long before both broadcast and cable television are extinct.

Marketers who incorporate advertising into their blend of marketing activities and the agencies which are often paid to both create and place them as well as the mediums that rely on advertising to subsidize content must somehow work together to find a way to reduce ad clutter which long ago made advertising noticeable only by its absence.

A good start would be to retire all roadside billboards in favor of less harmful outdoor substitutes.  If they don't, it won't just be outdoor billboards that become obsolete.

Go Pats!

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