How Super Bowl ads scientifically prove marketing’s effectiveness

Jan 22, 2018

Our hometown Philadelphia Eagles are going back to the Super Bowl, a game that’s known just as much for its advertising as its athletics.

Super Bowl ads average about $5 million per 30 seconds this year, which to most people seems insane. Is it worth it?

It’s a tough question, because marketing effectiveness is surprisingly hard to measure, despite what some less-scrupulous agencies might tell you. We often see marketers say things like, “We ran this campaign, and sales increased,” but anyone with even a basic understanding of causation vs. correlation knows that’s misleading.

Furthermore, people don’t like to believe, or don’t even know, that they’re swayed by marketing. You can’t just ask people and expect reliable answers.

In 2016, researchers found a brilliant way to determine if advertising actually does anything. They used the Super Bowl as a natural experiment.

First, because viewership increases about 20 percent in the host city and cities whose home teams are playing, they hypothesized that increased sales in those cities could be attributed to Super Bowl ads.

Second, because movie releases are unique, one-time events, they could better isolate the effects of particular ads on ticket sales, as opposed to sales of products like Pepsi, which could be attributed to all kinds of other promotions.

Third, to further eliminate other variables, they used Google search data to control for any prior awareness and interest.

What did they find? For every $3 million spent on advertising, movies saw an $8.4 million increase in ticket sales.

Long story short: marketing is often hard to measure scientifically, but don’t just assume that means it’s ineffective. In fact, it could easily be the opposite case – it may actually be far more effective than you even imagine.

This article first appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Lee Procida.

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