The millions of Canadians tuning in the Super Bowl on Sunday night are more eager to take in the lavish television ads than the football game itself, a new survey suggests.
A recent Harris/Decima poll found that while a third of Canadians plan to tune into the National Football League's marquee event, 46 per cent intend to watch the ads that air throughout the game.
That doesn't mean, though, that would-be ad-watchers will be turning on their televisions to do so. Of those who hope to check out the big-budget commercials that have become a hallmark of the event, the survey found 45 per cent intend to view them online rather than during the matchup between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.
The commercials have even captured the attention of those who have no interest in football, Harris/Decima said.
Of those who have no plans to watch the Super Bowl, one third still hope to check out the ads at some point.
The telephone poll, which surveyed 1,010 Canadians across the country between Jan. 23 and 27, carries a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.
The survey results came as little surprise to marketing experts, who said the phenomenon of Super Bowl advertising has long threatened to outstrip the actual football game in terms of both spectacle and pop culture significance.
Companies hoping to air a 30-second ad to a captive audience had to shell out US $42,000 in 1967, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. While those numbers may well have seemed steep at the time, they pale in comparison to the US$4 million price tag today's 30 second ads can command.
Those costs don't even account for the creative budgets some companies are prepared to devote to a Super Bowl campaign.
Dino Demopoulos, vice-president at DDB subsidiary advertising firm Tribal Worldwide, said deep-pocketed American corporations have been known to spend upwards of US$14 million on an ad that would traditionally have aired just a handful of times at best.
Those companies argued that the viewership numbers alone made their investment worthwhile, Demopoulos said. Indeed, the 2014 Super Bowl is expected to attract 108 million viewers in the United States alone.
Move to social media
But Demopoulos said modern day technology has greatly widened the scope of the audience, making the Super Bowl advertising game an even more high-stakes affair than the one unfolding on the field.
Super Bowl ads are no longer one-offs. High-profile advertisers like Anheuser-Busch, Bank of America, H&M and Nestle have already previewed their commercials on social media. All ads will also be available for repeat viewing on video sharing sites after the game has ended.
Demopoulos said these new channels have made pricey ad campaigns more compelling for brands eager to raise their public profile.
"With conversation starting before the Super Bowl spots air, and certainly during the evening of the Super Bowl and beyond, the kinds of things that marketers are measuring that they weren't measuring in the past is the predominant sentiment," Demopoulos said in a telephone interview.
"Are people saying negative things about the brand? Are people saying positive things? . . . There's a whole arena . . . online where a brand can really learn a lot."
Less fanfare north of the border
The Super Bowl advertising scene is more muted in Canada, where experts say both audience interest and corporate spending are considerably lower than they are south of the border.
Alan Middleton, Assistant Professor of Marketing at York University, said Canadian companies don't aspire to the same advertising budgets as their American counterparts.
- Super Bowl used to promote sports-betting changes in Canada
- Super Bowl fans wager on just about anything
U.S. companies with a presence on both sides of the border sometimes release ads tailored for Canadian consumers, though to considerably less fanfare.
Nonetheless, Middleton said he's not surprised by Harris/Decima's take on Canadian interest in Super Bowl ads.
Canadians are usually keen to embrace Americana, he said, adding images from corporate heavyweights such as Volkswagen and Coke have gone on to become pop culture touchstones.
Besides, Middleton said, the experience can simply be fun.
"You've got a much smaller proportion of the audience who feel a loyalty to either of the teams," he said. "Strangely enough, they're much more likely to go, '(this is just as entertaining as watching the game.'
Are the ads successful?
Demopoulos and Middleton both agreed that it's difficult to gauge the overall success of Super Bowl advertising campaigns, especially in light of the more complex media landscape.
'For the big players to drop $4 million for a for a 30-second commercial, provided you can expand it across all the other media, it probably pays back in most cases.' - Alan Middleton, Assistant Professor of Marketing at York University
Demopoulos said companies have shifted the focus away from boosting sales of a specific product to raising awareness of the business as a whole.
"A lot of the work that's featured in the Super Bowl is just intended to elevate perceptions of the brand," he said. "It's more story-telling as opposed to hard sales."
Middleton said the rise of online interest has taken some of the risk out of an expensive Super Bowl campaign.
The growing number of websites and social networks that carry the pricey productions, he said, go a long way to ensuring that companies on both sides of the border get a real bang for their advertising bucks.
"For the big players to drop four million for a for a 30-second commercial, provided you can expand it across all the other media, it probably pays back in most cases."
Kickoff for Super Bowl XLVIII is scheduled to take place at 6:30 p.m. ET on Sunday evening.