Super Bowl advertising - Semantic Scholar

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In addition, USA Today's published Super Bowl advertisement likeability results ... As evidence of this, the average 30-second advertisement rates for the 1990 ...

The USA’s biggest marketing event keeps getting bigger: an in-depth look at Super Bowl advertising in the 1990s CHUCK TOMKOVICK, RAMA YELKUR AND LORI CHRISTIANS

Management and Marketing Department, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 463 Schneider Hall, Eau Claire, WI 54702–4004, USA

Over the last decade, US Super Bowl advertising has evolved into a unique phenomenon. US advertisers love the Super Bowl because it has reached an average television audience of over 120 million US viewers for the last 10 years. This manuscript examines the popularity of Super Bowl advertising during the 1990s. Every Super Bowl advertisement aired in the USA during the 10-year period 1990–1999 was video taped and viewed. In addition, USA Today’s published Super Bowl advertisement likeability results were incorporated into the analysis. A total of 454 national advertisements were examined with regard to advertisement likeability. The impact of humour, advertisement length, animals, celebrities and product category type on advertisement likeability was assessed with the help of a comprehensive Super Bowl advertisement likeability model. It was hypothesized that each of these variables would be positively related to Super Bowl advertisement likeability. The results of a multiple regression analysis indicated that all these factors except the presence of celebrities had a strong signiŽ cant impact on advertisement likeability scores. Based on these Ž ndings, this paper provides advertising strategy recommendations for future Super Bowl advertisers and marketing academics. KEYWORDS: Super Bowl advertising; advertisement likeability; humour; advertisement length; celebrities; animals INTRODUCTION Thirty-Ž ve years ago, when Pete Roselle, the late commissioner of the National Football League (NFL), Ž rst imagined naming his league’s championship game the Super Bowl, it is unlikely he thought this creation would one day become the USA’s biggest marketing event. Back then, worldwide television broadcast viewership for the game was less than 100 million people and the US television networks which held the rights to the game in the USA charged approximately $40 000 for 30 seconds of commercial airtime. An amazingly short three and a half decades later, Super Bowl 2000 was watched by over 134 million viewers in the USA and by nearly 800 million television viewers worldwide. US advertisers in the USA paid ABC, the television network with exclusive US broadcast rights to the Super Bowl, an average of $2 200 000 to air 30-second commercials during the game (Farrell, 1999; Leader-Telegram, 1999). Journal of Marketing Communications ISSN 1352–7266 print/ISSN 1466–4445 online © 2001 Taylor & Francis Ltd



Notably, much of the increase in Super Bowl advertising rates and viewership occurred during the 1990s. As evidence of this, the average 30-second advertisement rates for the 1990 game were approximately $700 000 (Elliott, 1990;, 16 January 2000). When compared with the 2000 Ž gure, this represents an increase of over 200% (see Table 1 for growing US Super Bowl viewership Ž gures and increasing Super Bowl advertisement rates). With the ‘$2.2 million in 2000’ numeric now widely known around the world, much discussion has centred around several commonly recurring themes. Perhaps the most frequently asked question related to this popular event is why are advertisers willing to pay that much money for 30 seconds of airtime? There are other commonly asked questions in this same genre. Why have Americans embraced this event so passionately? Why are the advertisements almost as popular as the game itself? Why are some advertisements liked as much as they are while others are panned? What separates the popular advertisements from those less well-liked? What should advertisers do in order to design better Super Bowl advertisements? The purpose of this paper is threefold: (1) to explain why the game has turned into a phenomenon of growing interest, (2) to describe the nature of US Super Bowl advertising in the 1990s in detail and (3) to explain why some Super Bowl advertisements are more popular with viewers than others. An exploratory examination of the factors that contributed to the successes and failures of Super Bowl advertisements in the 1990s was conducted using USA Today’s published measure of Super Bowl advertisement likeability. Based on this analysis, strategic and tactical recommendations are provided for companies who plan to advertise in future Super Bowls. The paper concludes by discussing future research implications. THE SUPER BOWL PHENOMENON The Super Bowl has become so ingrained in US culture that, with rare exception, it is the most watched US television event each year. With titillating references to gladiator-like heroics and elaborate half-time concerts, the event now receives more hype and pre-game promotion than any other US television programme. The only other regularly scheduled US broadcast event that even comes close to the Super Bowl in public interest is Hollywood’s annual Academy Awards

TA BLE 1. Super Bowl US viewership and advertising costs during 1990–2000 Year

US viewership (millions)

Average cost per 30-second commercial ($)

Cost per viewer ($)

1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000

110.0 112.1 119.7 133.4 134.8 120.0 138.5 128.9 138.5 127.5 134.0

700 000 800 000 825 000 850 000 900 000 1 000 000 1 100 000 1 200 000 1 300 000 1 600 000 2 200 000

0.0064 0.0071 0.0069 0.0064 0.0067 0.0083 0.0079 0.0093 0.0094 0.0126 0.0164



presentation. In comparing the two spectacles, both offer their respective audiences suspense, drama, competition, comic relief, elaborate costumes and, ultimately, victors and wild party-like celebrations. And the similarities do not end there. Just as many viewers of Hollywood’s Academy Awards tune in to see what the Ž lm stars are wearing, many viewers of the Super Bowl tune in to see what their favourite advertisers are saying. As evidence of this, several researchers have indicated that viewers watch Super Bowl commercials more attentively than commercials broadcast during normal prime time television programmes (Buck, 1992; Jensen, 1998a,b). One recent study reported that 7% of Super Bowl viewers turn on the Super Bowl contest exclusively to watch the advertisements (Elliott, 1999). Several other studies have claimed that the Super Bowl is the single most important event when it comes to advertisement recall (Bloom, 1998; Freeman, 1999). Part of the reason the Super Bowl has captured the imagination of the viewing public so powerfully is that the event is broadcast in the dead of winter, typically near the end of January, when little else is going on. With Christmas and New Year’s festivities not much more than distant memories by then and Valentine’s Day a bit too far into the future, viewers are deŽ nitely in a mood to party by game time. Since the games are always played on Sundays, the event is cleverly marketed as ‘Super Sunday’. The US public also considers the Super Bowl to be a special event because of the many opportunities for gambling on the game. In 1998, the Nevada sports books took $77.2 million in Super Bowl bets. When illegal gambling from ofŽ ce pools and local bookmakers is factored in, the amount wagered on this annual game has been estimated at up to $700 million (O’Toole, 1999). Thanks in part to the enormous hype and pre-game build-up given to the game by the television networks that hold the broadcasting rights and the advertisers who want to generate public interest in their advertisements, the Super Bowl has ipso facto become the Super Party Bowl in recent years. Bob Thompson, founder of the study of popular television at Syracuse University refers to the Super Bowl as the ‘only truly television holiday’ (O’Toole, 1999). The party atmosphere surrounding the game became more prevalent during the 1990s when food and beverage mega-marketers Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi-Cola and Frito-Lay stepped up their advertising investment in the games ( Jensen, 1998a). REASONS WHY ADVERTISERS ARE WILLING TO INVEST IN SUPER BOWL ADVERTISEMENTS Advertisers spend millions of dollars creating and producing commercials for the Super Bowl, in spite of the fact that the cost of airing Super Bowl commercials has increased steeply over the years. Remarkably, each year there is a mad rush to purchase Super Bowl spots at seemingly exorbitant prices. As an example of this, advertisement space for Super Bowl XXXIV was sold out nearly 5 months in advance of the game (Farrell, 1999). Advertisement space for Super Bowl XXXIV was sold out before the NFL’s 1999 season even began. Clearly, the main reason advertisers love the Super Bowl is that it delivered an average television audience of over 120 million US viewers for each of the 10 years of 1990–1999. When comparing the viewership to the average cost of a 30-second commercial in the 1990s, the cost of reaching viewers averaged less than $0.01 per person (see Table 1). Another reason advertisers are willing to spend so much on Super Bowl advertisements is because the Super Bowl provides companies with a concentrated male viewership. This is an opportunity that advertisers want to capitalize on since male viewers are difŽ cult to target during prime time viewing. The Super Bowl is also the premier advertising vehicle for reaching adults under the age of 35 years ( Jensen 1998a).



In addition to the attractive size and demographics of the Super Bowl audience, companies are eager to invest in the game because research has demonstrated that these viewers are keenly attentive to Super Bowl advertisements (Gunter and Furnham, 1997; Elliott, 1999; Freeman, 1999). According to Freeman (1999), in one study, approximately 68% of surveyed respondents said they paid attention to Super Bowl advertisements and 52% discussed the advertisements the next day. Pavelchak et al. (1988) suggested that the recall of Super Bowl advertisements is superior to advertisements aired during conventional programming based on the presence of programmeinduced effects. For this reason, major corporations that spend extensively on television sports advertising view the Super Bowl as a premier venue for making a statement (Bloom, 1998; Jensen, 1998a). Another reason why the Super Bowl holds a magnetic attraction for advertisers is because this media vehicle has helped companies effectively launch new products. The most renowned Super Bowl product launch in history was Apple Computers’ dramatic introduction of its Macintosh computer in 1984 (Horton, 1990). Apple Computers reported that this advertisement, which is referred to as ‘1984’, resulted in sales of 72 000 Macintosh computers during their Ž rst 100 days of availability following the Super Bowl telecast. Given that the Super Bowl showing of Apple Computers’ ‘1984’ was the only time the advertisement ever appeared as a commercial spot on network television and resultant Macintosh sales were 44% above projections, ‘1984’ is viewed as one of the most successful commercials ever aired. More recently, Chrysler had huge success in launching its Neon. The campaign was kicked off with a series of Super Bowl advertisements in 1994. It has been shown that the Super Bowl telecast is an effective media vehicle by which companies can create brand awareness and increase the market share for their products (Bloom, 1998). Frito-Lay reported that the company registered a double-digit increase in market share in 1992 and 1993 following its Super Bowl commercials. Auto-By-Tel noted that its campaign during the 1997 Super Bowl increased trafŽ c to the company’s web site (Taylor, 1997). In addition, Nike, Pepsi, McDonalds, Taco Bell, Ford, Visa, Toyota and Pizza Hut all reported that they achieved signiŽ cant increases in market share following their Super Bowl commercials (Deveny, 1993). Hollywood has also started using the Super Bowl as a major vehicle for launching new Ž lms. In recent years, it has been apparent that Super Bowl advertisement investments have helped Hollywood studios successfully market their Ž lms. Over 80% of the Hollywood Ž lms advertised during the last four Super Bowls have been box ofŽ ce hits (Tomkovick et al., 2000a). GROWING INTERNATIONAL INTEREST IN THE SUPER BOWL Stateside Ž lm buffs and US sports enthusiasts are not the only ones who are anxious to watch this annual festive Super Bowl spectacle. Interest in American football has spread around the world. As evidence of this, the 1999 Super Bowl contest played in Miami was televised in 188 countries and in 17 languages. Worldwide distribution of the Super Bowl telecast was modest in the early years of the game but evolved tremendously during the 1990s. In 1992, ESPN acquired select international television rights to distribute NFL games and programming, including Super Bowl telecasts. ESPN broadcasts these games through its international network to Southeast Asia, Latin America and the PaciŽ c Rim (Worldwide NFL, 1992). In 1998, the Dutch television station FOX8 signed an exclusive contract with NFL International for 2 years of US NFL broadcast rights in Europe, including live coverage of Super Bowl XXXIV, which was broadcast on 30 January 2000 in Atlanta (www.n .com/international, 15 August).



Closer to US soil, the game’s grip on television viewers is even stronger. It is estimated that the Super Bowl is watched by two out of every three Canadian households. Notably, the Super Bowl is the only broadcast that exposes Canadian viewers to completely unedited US commercials (Boone, 1999). Not only do the USA’s closest neighbours get to watch the game live in this global version of the Super Bowl telecast, they also get to watch US commercials. Fittingly, one Montreal Gazette writer stated that ‘It’s no Super Bowl without all those U.S. commercials’ (Boone, 1999, p. D7). DESCRIPTION OF PRODUCT CATEGORIES ADVERTISED DURING THE SUPER BOWLS OF THE 1990s Researchers have been carefully studying the Super Bowl for several decades. As examples of this, Pavelchak et al. (1988) studied advertisement recall in the context of Super Bowl viewing, Cramer-Krasselt, a Milwaukee advertising agency, studied viewer reactions to Super Bowl advertisements (AdWeek’s Marketing Week, 1992) and Burton (1999) comprehensively reviewed known Super Bowl studies. Building upon these previous studies, every US Super Bowl advertisement aired during the 10year period 1990–1999 was video taped and viewed. A total of 454 different national advertisements were run during the ten Super Bowl broadcasts. These 454 advertisements were analysed and classiŽ ed into ten major product categories: (1) beverages, (2) vehicles, tyres and motor oil, (3) telecommunications, Ž nancial services and electronic business, (4) food and restaurants, (5) Ž lms and entertainment, (6) apparel, (7) non-food consumer packaged goods and retail, (8) transport services and lodgings, (9) analgesics and over-the-counter medication and (10) credit cards. Of the 454 advertisements, over half (i.e. 236 out of 454) were commercials for beverages, food and motor vehicles. The remaining 218 advertisements were comprised of seven product categories: telecommunications, Ž nancial services and electronic business (50 advertisements), Ž lms and entertainment (39 advertisements), apparel (38 advertisements), non-food consumer packaged goods and retail (28 advertisements), transport services and lodgings (27 advertisements), analgesics and over-the-counter medication (20 advertisements) and credit cards (16 advertisements). A breakdown of Super Bowl advertisements per category and a summary of the brands that comprised each category for each of the games broadcast during the 1990s are given in Table 2. A detailed description of the products and brands in each category is provided in the Appendix. THE RELEVANCE AND IMPORTANCE OF ADVERTISEMENT LIKEABILITY Researchers have shown that television programming in uences viewers’ emotions (Singh and Churchill, 1987; Pavelchak et al., 1988; SchoŽ eld and Pavelchak, 1989) and that the selection of appropriate media vehicles is as important as the message itself in effectively reaching a speciŽ c audience (King and Reed, 1997; Forbes, 1998). In advertising during special events such as the Super Bowl, it is critical for advertisers to get viewers emotionally involved in their advertisements. Since viewers of special events are typically very highly emotionally involved in the programme, the challenge for advertisers is to capture this intensity and immediately channel it towards their commercials. Viewers pay attention to advertisements that elicit an immediate emotional response and respond favourably to advertisements that put them in a positive mood state (Gardner, 1985; Goldberg and Gorn, 1987). Research has also indicated that positive mood states created by advertising can have a favourable effect on consumers’ evaluations of a product (Gardner, 1985; Madison, 1990).




Product categories for advertisements aired during the Super Bowls of the 1990s

Category Year











Totals per year

1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 Total

13 13 15 14 14 10 11 14 15 11 130

8 1 5 10 6 10 9 5 6 6 66

5 8 3 2 1 1 5 4 9 12 50

6 2 3 1 2 5 8 4 5 4 40

0 2 2 4 3 2 2 8 7 9 39

1 6 6 5 5 5 3 3 2 2 38

3 3 3 5 3 4 2 4 0 1 28

4 6 1 2 4 1 1 2 4 2 27

0 4 4 0 0 2 4 5 0 1 20

1 1 0 0 1 0 4 1 4 4 16

41 46 42 43 39 40 49 50 52 52 454

Categories: 1, beverages; 2, vehicles, tyres and motor oil; 3, telecommunications, Ž nancial services and electronic business; 4, food and restaurants; 5, Ž lms and entertainment; 6, apparel; 7, non-food consumer packaged goods and retail; 8, transport services and lodgings; 9, analgesic and over-the-counter medication; 10, credit cards.

Attitude towards the advertisement has been deŽ ned as a ‘predisposition to respond in a favorable or unfavorable manner, to a particular exposure occasion’ (Lutz, 1985). The role of consumers’ attitudes towards an advertisement in forming their attitudes towards an advertised brand has been studied extensively (Mitchell and Olson, 1981; Shimp, 1981; Mackenzie et al., 1986; Yelkur and Herbig, 1999). The ability of an advertisement to create consumer patronage towards a brand often depends on consumers’ attitudes toward the advertisement itself (Shimp, 1981, 2000; Lutz, 1985; MacKenzie et al., 1986; Machleit and Wilson, 1988), that is the more an individual likes the advertisement, the more they will like the brand. Silk and Vavra (1974) suggested a strong correlation between attitude towards the advertisement and attitude towards the brand and purchase intention. Several recent studies have supported the correlation between attitude towards the advertisement, attitude towards the brand and purchase intention (Scrull, 1983; Mitchell, 1986; Goldberg and Gorn, 1987; Muehling and McCann, 1993; Russo et al., 1994; De Pelsmacker and Geuens, 1996; De Pelsmacker and Van den Bergh, 1996). Researchers have studied ‘advertisement likeability’ as a variable that affects sales effectiveness (Haley and Baldinger, 1991; Stapel, 1991, 1994; Leather et al., 1994). According to Biel and Bridgwater (1990), likeable advertising has an impact on persuasion because a likeable commercial affects the emotional component of consumer attitudes towards the brand. These researchers concluded that ‘people who liked a commercial are twice as likely to be persuaded by it than people who simply felt neutral towards the advertisement’ (Biel and Bridgwater, 1990, p. 40). Another study by Homer (1990) emphasized the fact that designing well-liked commercials is important even when the marketer expects consumers to go through a logical decision-making process in evaluating the brand. According to Stapel (1994), advertisement likeability is a major advertisement quality or goal to be achieved. The results from a longitudinal study conducted by the Netherlands Institute of Public Opinion indicated that advertising that is liked performs better in terms of both perception and persuasion (Stapel, 1994).



Based upon support from previously published literature, advertisement likeability was conceptualized in this study as a measure of attitude towards the advertisement. A high advertisement likeability score is believed to have a positive in uence on the attitude towards the brand being advertised. In addition, advertisement likeability can be said to have a positive in uence on purchase intention. MEASUREMENT OF SUPER BOWL ADVERTISEMENT LIKEABILITY USA Today has assembled an average of 100 volunteer adult viewers every year since 1989. Each year these 100 viewers are drawn from several major US cities (chosen by the national polling organization Gordon S. Black) to watch and rate the advertisements being aired during the Super Bowl. According to Jim Norman (personal interview), the polling editor for USA Today, the demographics of the sample are typically representative of the Super Bowl audience. The sample audience is given hand-held meters called ‘advertisement meters’ for rating the advertisements. The viewers then use the advertisement meter to register how much they liked or disliked each advertisement. A computer continuously averages the scores registered by the viewers. The highest average score for each commercial is calculated and that score is the advertisement likeability score for that commercial. The advertisement meter records the advertisement likeability scores on a Likert scale of 1–7. These scores are then converted to a ten-point Likert scale by the USA Today research team (10 being the highest rating and 1 being the lowest rating on advertisement likeability). USA Today publishes these advertisement likeability scores for Super Bowl commercials the Monday after each game (USA Today, 1990a,b,c,d,e, 1991a,b,c, 1992a,b,c,d, 1993, 1994, 1995a,b, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999). As depicted in Fig. 1, the annual advertisement likeability scores for Super Bowls have been very stable. The mean score (on a 1–10-point scale) during this period was 6.56 with an annual range of values from 7.09 (in 1997) to 6.19 (in 1991). These published advertisement likeability scores for commercials aired during the Super Bowl were collected for the years 1990–1999. The commercials studied did not include pre-game advertisements, post-game advertisements, half-time advertisements, public service announcements, network advertisements promoting forthcoming network programming or local market advertisements (USA Today, 1990a,b,c,d,e, 1991a,b,c, 1992a,b,c,d, 1993, 1994, 1995a,b, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999). To the authors’ knowledge, there is no other published measure of advertisement likeability for Super Bowl advertisements. The average advertisement likeability scores for each of the ten Super Bowl advertisement product categories (described in the Appendix) are depicted in Fig. 2. The three product categories that averaged the highest scores on advertisement likeability in the 1990s were beverages, food and restaurants and credit cards. The high scores for beverages and food and restaurants can be explained in part by the food consumption and party atmosphere that accompanies the Super Bowl. The high average score for the credit card advertisements may be attributable in part to the timing of the Super Bowl broadcast during the post-Christmas season, when viewers are normally in debt and perhaps predisposed to noticing credit-relief type products. The three product categories that had the lowest average advertisement likeability scores were analgesics and over-the-counter medication, vehicles, tyres and motor oil and non-food consumer packaged goods and retail. It is conceivable that these product categories did not score well on advertisement likeability because they do not complement the festive mood of the Super Bowl. Apparently, Super Bowl viewers are not overly appreciative of serious products such as pain



FIGURE 1. Stability of the advertisement likeability measure, 1990–1999.

FIGURE 2. Super Bowl advertisement likeability scores of the 1990s by product category.

relievers. The motor vehicle and non-food consumer packaged goods advertised during the Super Bowl also take on a serious vein because of their high price and because of the need for high elaboration in order to process these advertisements. IDENTIFICATION OF FACTORS WHICH INFLUENCE ADVERTISEMENT LIKEABILITY Based on existing research related to television commercial popularity, various factors that were believed to impact on Super Bowl advertisement likeability scores were identiŽ ed. In comparing the actual content of Super Bowl advertisements with known theories on television advertisement popularity, Ž ve factors were selected for closer examination: the presence of humour in advertisements, the length of advertisements, the product category type, the presence of animals in advertisements and the presence of celebrities in advertisements. The rationale for each variable’s inclusion in a model for predicting Super Bowl advertisement likeability is presented below. The model is depicted in Fig. 3.



FIGURE 3. Super Bowl advertising likeability model.

The effect of humour on advertisement likeability The use of humour in advertising has been extensively researched. Humorous advertisement messages have been found to attract and hold consumers’ attention as well as to increase liking for both the advertisement and the advertised brand (Weinberger and Gulas, 1992). According to Belch and Belch (1998), humorous advertisements have the potential to enhance advertising effectiveness by putting consumers in a positive mood, which in turn increases their liking for the advertisements themselves and their feelings towards the products and services advertised. Humorous advertisement executions have been found to be particularly well suited for television and radio (Weinberger et al., 1995; De Pelsmacker, 1998; Shimp, 2000). A number of researchers have found that humorous advertisements induce more positive affective reactions than non-humorous advertisements (Brooker, 1981; Gelb and Pickett, 1983; Belch and Belch, 1984; Gelb and Zinkhan, 1986; Chattopadhyay and Basu, 1990; Lammers, 1991; Zhang and Zinkhan, 1991; Smith, 1993; De Pelsmacker and Geuens, 1996). Humorous advertisements have been found to be successful with established rather than new products, with product messages that are more feeling oriented than thinking oriented and with products that are typically less expensive to purchase (Weinberger and Gulas, 1992; Zhang, 1996).



Television advertisers in general and Super Bowl advertisers in particular are quite enamoured with the use of humour. Weinberger and Spotts (1989) reported that approximately 25% of all television advertisements in the USA and over 35% in the UK used humour. With respect to the Super Bowl advertisements of the1990s, nearly half (i.e. 221 out of 454) contained some form of humour (Tomkovick et al., 2000b). Given these research Ž ndings, the follow relationship is hypothesized. H1: A positive relationship exists between use of humour in Super Bowl advertising and advertisement likeability.

The effect of advertisement length on advertisement likeability The effect of a commercial’s length on attitude towards the advertisement has been widely discussed in the marketing literature since the 1960s. Wheatley (1968) contended that 60-second commercials have better recall, better sponsor identiŽ cation and generate greater consumer desire for products than do 30-second commercials. Similarly, Mord and Gilson (1985), Fabian (1986) and Lonning (1988) each concluded that recall, persuasion and overall likeability are higher for 30-second advertisements than for 15-second advertisements. The theory of the effectiveness of longer commercials was also support by Barclay et al. (1965), Martilla and Thompson (1966), Steiner (1966), Wells et al. (1971) and Rethans et al. (1986) and, more recently, by Patzer (1991) and Singh and Cole (1993). Rethans et al. (1986) argued that longer commercials, when compared to shorter ones, enable television commercial viewers to process the favourable implications of advertisement messages better, which in turn enhances persuasion. Singh and Cole (1993) stated that 15-second commercials, in comparison to 30-second ones, limit viewers’ opportunities for elaborating on the commercials. However, both the Rethans et al. (1986) and Singh and Cole (1993) studies failed to Ž nd any effect of message length on attitudinal responses to commercials. Claggett (1986) suggested that 15-second television commercials can be effective when targeted at younger audiences and when broadcast frequently over an extended period of time. However, since the Super Bowl is a once-a-year phenomenon and the age range of the Super Bowl viewing audience is quite diverse, it would appear that 15-second advertisements are less than ideally suited for this particular event. Given that the average length of a Super Bowl advertisement aired during the 1990s was 36.4 seconds long and that over 25% of the Super Bowl advertisements of the 1990s were 45 seconds or longer, apparently the majority of Super Bowl advertisers believe that longer is better (Tomkovick et al., 2000b). Based on these research Ž ndings, the following relationship is hypothesized. H2: A positive relationship exists between Super Bowl advertisement length and advertisement likeability.

The effect of product category type on Super Bowl advertisement likeability As discussed previously, the Super Bowl advertisements of the 1990s were sorted into ten major product categories. A summary of this product categorization can be found in Table 2. Of these ten categories, the beverage and food and restaurant categories represented over 37% of all products advertised during the Super Bowls of the 1990s. It appears that food and beverage advertisements were among the most appreciated by viewers of the Super Bowls of the 1990s (see



Fig. 2). Based on this, there is reason to believe that food and beverage products will be more liked than non-food and -beverage products. From a US cultural perspective, eating large quantities of party food and drinking beverages with friends have become as much a part of Super Sunday as the television event itself. As evidence of this, consider the following ‘Super Sunday Fun Facts’ which were found on the NFL’s website ( in the week leading up to Super Bowl XXXIV. (1) The Super Bowl is the top at-home US party event of the year, surpassing even New Year’s Eve (Hallmark Cards, Inc.). (2) The average number of people attending a US Super Bowl party is 17 (Hallmark Cards, Inc.). (3) Parties with six or more people account for 26% of viewing (NFL Research). (4) Fifty percent of viewers watch the game with two to Ž ve people (NFL Research). (5) Super Bowl Sunday is the second largest US food consumption day behind only Thanksgiving (American Institute of Food Distribution). (6) An estimated 14 500 tons of chips and 4 000 tons of popcorn are eaten on Super Bowl Sunday (American Institute of Food Distribution). Given that the dominating theme for the day among many viewers is to ‘eat, drink and be merry’, it is believed that viewers will be predisposed to ‘like’ Super Bowl commercials that depict party foods and beverages. Based on these research Ž ndings and observations, the following relationship is hypothesized. H3: A positive relationship exists between Super Bowl advertisements that promote food and beverage products and advertisement likeability.

The effect of animals on advertisement likeability During the 1990s, Super Bowl advertisers treated viewers to a dazzling array of creatively displayed animals in an attempt to persuade consumers to buy various products. From Dalmatians to frogs to lizards to goldŽ sh to lobsters to mice to geese to dancing bears and the list goes on, many advertisers have literally gambled on animal magnetism to capture the hearts and minds of Super Bowl television audiences (Elliott, 1996). Tomkovick et al. (2000b) reported that one out of every six Super Bowl advertisements in the 1990s included some form of wildlife. Using animals to hype products is nothing new in the advertising world. For over three decades, Morris the Ž nicky feline has been promoting 9 lives cat food, Charlie the Tuna has been touting Starkist tuna and Tony the Tiger has been telling television viewers that Kellogg’s Frosties are ‘Grrreat’ (Belch and Belch, 1998). During the 1980s, bull terrier Spuds McKenzie helped Bud Light create one of the most popular advertising personality symbols of modern times. Although Anheuser-Busch eventually stopped using the Spuds character, amid swirling charges that the company was targeting minors, Madison Avenue advertising Ž rms were quick to note that many consumers love commercials that contain cute animals. Super Bowl viewers are likely to connect emotionally with advertisements employing animals for several reasons. First, nearly 50% of US households own at least one pet (Crispell, 1994). Second, Americans spend over $20 billion annually on caring for them (Braus, 1993). Third and perhaps most important of all, modern societies have a growing affection for animals in the wild because they serve as a register of environmental safety. Franklin (1999) suggested that this increased love and care of wild animals is associated with the growing anxieties that humans have about air, soil



and water pollution. Regardless of the motivation, humans appear to relate to animals in a passionate way and Super Bowl advertisers believe they can ‘cash in’ on this affection by including animals in their advertisements. Given these research Ž ndings and observations, the following is hypothesized. H4: A positive relationship exists between the inclusion of animals in Super Bowl advertisements and advertisement likeability.

The effect of celebrities on advertisement likeability The inclusion of celebrities in television advertisements is quite common. A celebrity is a personality (i.e. actor, athlete, entertainer or public Ž gure) whom the general public recognizes for his or her accomplishments in areas other than the product class endorsed (Shimp, 2000). Advertisers use celebrities in their advertisements in order to enhance advertisement likeability, advertisement recall and, ultimately, advertisement effectiveness. It has been estimated that 20–25% of all US television commercials feature celebrities (Belch & Belch, 1998; Shimp, 2000). The use of celebrities in advertisements is not without controversy or risk. One fear that advertisers have in using celebrities is that viewers may focus their attention on the celebrity and fail to note the brand. Mazda once dropped actor James Garner as its advertisement spokesperson because it was felt that consumers were paying too much attention to him and not enough to their cars (Horowitz, 1989). Other risks or potential negatives of using celebrities in advertisements are that the celebrity will fall ‘out of favour’ with the target audience (as happened with Mike Tyson, one time spokesperson for Diet Pepsi) or that, more commonly, the celebrity will become overexposed (as happened to Bill Cosby in the 1980s). A study by the Total Research Corporation (cited in Horowitz, 1993) suggested that celebrity endorsements in advertisements are becoming less important in in uencing consumer purchase decisions. Despite all these risks, celebrity spokespersons are routinely employed in Super Bowl advertisements. Nearly one-third of all the Super Bowl advertisements in the 1990s used a celebrity (Tomkovick et al., 2000b). Given the heavy use of celebrities in Super Bowl advertisements and the theories that promote their use, the following is hypothesized. H5: A positive relationship exists between the inclusion of celebrities in Super Bowl advertisements and advertisement likeability.

RESULTS OF THE STUDY The present study used multiple regression analysis for examining the effect of Ž ve independent variables (humour, advertisement length, product category type, animals and celebrities) on Super Bowl advertisement likeability (dependent variable). Tables 3 and 4 show the results of the regression analysis. Overall, the Ž ve independent variables explained 43% of the variance in the dependent variable, with an F-value equal to 68.11, which was signiŽ cant at p < 0.0001. Humour was the most in uential variable in the equation with a b coefŽ cient of 0.308 (t = 7.976 and p < 0.0001), indicating that the use of humour has a signiŽ cant positive impact on Super Bowl advertisement likeability. Advertisement length was the second most signiŽ cant predictor of advertisement likeability (b = 0.304, t = 8.134 and p < 0.0001). The food/beverage product category variable (b = 0.237, t = 6.159 and p < 0.0001) and the variable depicting the use of animals in advertisements (b = 0.173, t = 4.685 and p < 0.0001) were also highly signiŽ cant



TABLE 3. Super Bowl advertising likeability model: analysis of variance regression results Model


SS (sum of squares)

MS (mean square)



Adjusted R2

Regression Residual Total

5 440 445

249.981 322.984 572.965

49.996 0.734 –

68.110 – –

0.000 – –

0.436 (0.430) – –


Super Bowl advertising likeability model: parameter estimate regression results

Variable Intercept Celebrities in advertisements Animals in advertisements Product category Humour in advertisements Length of advertisements

coefŽ cient – 0.076 0.173 0.237 0.308 0.304

Standard error



0.219 0.090 0.110 0.090 0.087 0.003

13.800 2.087 4.685 6.159 7.976 8.134

0.0001 0.037 0.0001 0.0001 0.0001 0.0001

predictors of Super Bowl advertisement likeability. The use of celebrities had a weaker yet signiŽ cant impact on Super Bowl advertisement likeability, with a b coefŽ cient of 0.076, a t-value of 2.087 and a signiŽ cance level of p < 0.05. DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS FOR ADVERTISERS AND ACADEMICS Companies that are considering advertising in the Super Bowl should research advertisement likeability as part of their preparation for airing Super Bowl advertisements. Given the regression results obtained, it is clear that advertisement likeability can be at least partially predicted. Fortythree percent of the variance in USA Today’s advertisement likeability scores for the Super Bowl advertisements broadcast during the 1990s was explained by the model tested. In order of descending importance (based on b coefŽ cient values), humour is the most powerful predictor of Super Bowl advertisement likeability, followed by length, product category type and the presence of animals and celebrities. Over the years, advertisers have recognized the value of using humour in Super Bowl advertising. As evidence of this, in the early 1990s less than 40% of Super Bowl advertisements used humour. By the late 1990s, this Ž gure had grown to nearly 55%. Super Bowl audiences typically seem to appreciate commercials that are viewed as funny. In the context of the party atmosphere created by the Super Bowl, humorous advertisements seem to be better liked by viewers than nonhumorous advertisements. Consistent with previous research Ž ndings on humour in advertising, humour in Super Bowl advertising has the potential of enhancing advertisement likeability by putting viewers in a positive mood. In addition, humorous advertisements make good conversation pieces in the workplace the Monday after the game. According to recently published NFL research, 52% of viewers reported that they discussed Super Bowl advertisements the following day ( At a minimum, if advertisers are not going to use humour, they should have a good reason for its absence since viewers apparently have a predisposition for liking Super Bowl advertisements that use humour. It is evident from the results that longer advertisements have a more positive impact on



advertisement likeability than do shorter advertisements. In nine of the ten Super Bowls studied, the top scoring advertisement for likeability was longer than 30 seconds. Seven times during the decade, the top scoring advertisement in a given year was 60 seconds in length. In the other three years, the top scoring advertisements were 75, 45 and 30 seconds, respectively. This suggests that, if advertisers want to win the annual popularity contest for the most well-liked Super Bowl advertisement, they have a much better chance of doing so with an advertisement that is longer than 30 seconds. The product categories that scored the highest on advertisement likeability were beverages and food and restaurants. Given these results, consumers are sending a clear message that certain products interest them more than others during Super Bowl broadcasts. Food and beverage products clearly Ž t with the occasion of the day. Party food marketers such as Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi-Cola, McDonald’s and Frito-Lay have consistently earned high Super Bowl advertisement likeability scores. It is a good strategy to continue to advertise food and beverage products extensively during the Super Bowl because consumption peaks during the game. On the other hand, the worst advertisement likeability scores were for analgesics and over-the-counter medication, indicating that advertisements for party-busting products are not well-received on Super Sunday. The presence of animals in advertisements signiŽ cantly impacted on Super Bowl advertisement likeability. This re ects the importance of animals in contemporary US society, the nostalgic feelings that animals arouse among viewers and the increasing trend of pets as loveable, surrogate family members. People like to be around animals and are drawn to Super Bowl advertisements that depict animals in humorous or upbeat situations. The relatively weak impact of celebrities on advertisement likeability sends a message to advertisers. Why pay the high price of obtaining celebrities (Ž lm stars, sports stars and music celebrities) when advertisement likeability can be in uenced through the use of other variables such as humour, length and animals, which have a stronger effect on advertisement likeability? Celebrities are typically employed in television commercials in order to generate audience awareness and interest in the advertisements. Petty and Cacioppo’s (1981) elaboration likelihood model suggested that message sources are more likely to in uence viewers under the conditions germane to peripheral route processing found in low-involvement settings than in central route processing, which is more commonly found under conditions of relatively higher elaboration. In the case of the Super Bowl, when the audience is already ‘primed’ to watch the advertisements, the use of celebrities probably does little to enhance message receptivity further. In looking at the phenomenon of Super Bowl advertisement likeability from a 10-year perspective, the content analysis of Super Bowl advertising has implications for both advertisers and academic marketing researchers. From an academic perspective, it is important for researchers to devote more time to the study of advertising in special events because these high-proŽ le media spectacles offer marketers a unique and rare opportunity of reaching large audiences. Advertising in large-scale media events such as the Olympics, the World Cup, the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl merit study in and of themselves because of their large expense and potential impact. Research is needed in order to increase our understanding of advertising during these events. Marketing academics routinely teach students about advertising strategies, tactics and decision making. Strategies, tactics and decisions are always context speciŽ c, so studying advertising in a Super Bowl context is as valuable as any other context. Given that these advertisements cost in excess of 2 million dollars for 30 seconds of airtime, students of advertising are particularly keen to learn what distinguishes good advertisements from bad advertisements in the public’s eye. Not surprisingly, most US marketing textbooks devote space to discussing the importance of Super



Bowl advertising and several have published recent cases that involve in-depth analysis of the impact of Super Bowl advertising (Belch and Belch, 1998; Shimp, 2000). The study of advertising in special events is critical because the stakes are so high. When Subaru ran Ž ve advertisements in the 1993 Super Bowl and they all failed (based on USA Today’s advertisement likeability scores), this is of interest to everyone, from advertisement designers to researchers. Subaru invested millions of dollars in advertising in just one Super Bowl and the results were disastrous. In hindsight, Subaru’s advertisements did not meet any of the predictive criteria presented in this paper for a Super Bowl advertisement to be ‘likeable’. Their advertisements were too short, they lacked humour, they did not use animals or celebrities and they tried to advertise in a product category that typically scores poorly in a Super Bowl venue. In addition to Super Bowl advertisers and marketing academics, Super Bowl advertising research is also likely to be of interest to companies that are not even planning to advertise in forthcoming Super Bowls. Companies are interested in tracking the effectiveness of their competitors’ advertisements and consumer product companies are interested in research that examines advertisement likeability from a broad-based consumer perspective. CONCLUSIONS, LIMITATIONS AND DIRECTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH It is believed that the Super Bowl advertising likeability model discussed in this paper has predictive ability and has implications for future Super Bowl advertisers. It is important to note that the USA Today advertisement likeability scores were the only published measure available for assessing the popularity of Super Bowl advertisements. For a basis of comparison, there is a strong need for creating other mechanisms of measuring advertisement likeability and the effectiveness of Super Bowl advertising. Another important issue concerns the generalizability of this study. Similar to the Super Bowl advertising study conducted by Pavelchak et al. (1988), the results of this study will be of limited value if they only apply to future Super Bowl games. However, it is believed that, because all televised events in uence viewer emotions to some degree, the effects that were observed with respect to advertisement likeability will be found in a much broader range of programmes. It is likely that advertisers will continue to be interested in the Super Bowl because of the public’s growing interest in the game. Clearly, the USA’s biggest marketing event keeps getting bigger. This study has presented research Ž ndings about Super Bowl advertising based upon an analysis of Super Bowl advertisements in the 1990s. In addition, research that examines changes in Super Bowl advertisement content over time would also be of value. Researchers in other countries might also want to consider studying their key media events with respect to advertisement likeability, given the power of these events to draw and hold viewer attention. For researchers, academics and advertisers, one message is perfectly clear: as an advertisement medium the Super Bowl continues to grow in popularity. Given the high expense involved in producing and airing Super Bowl commercials, Ž rms which plan to advertise in future Super Bowls will want to be knowledgeable about Super Bowl advertisement likeability predictors. REFERENCES Adweek’s Marketing Week (1992) How people watch. Adweek’s Marketing Week 24, 6. Barclay, W.D., Doub, R. M. and McMurty, L.T. (1965) The perceived effects of piggyback television commercials. Journal of Marketing Research 3, 368–73.



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BIOGRAPHIES Chuck Tomkovick, Ph.D., Texas A&M University, is an Associate Professor of Marketing, at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. His areas of research interest include marketing education, product innovation, and integrated marketing communications. He has published articles in a wide variety of outlets including Marketing Education Review, Journal of Education for Business, Journal of Teaching in International Business, Journal of Product Innovation Management, and Business Communication Quarterly. Rama Yelkur, DBA Mississippi State University, is currently an assistant professor of marketing at the Univesity of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Her research interests include international marketing, cross-cultural consumer behaviour, advertising effectiveness, and global new product development. Her work has been published in a number of journals including the Journal of International Marketing and Marketing Research, Journal of Product and Brand Management, Journal of Professional Services Marketing, Business Horizons, Management Decision and Customer Service in Marketing & Management. Lori Christians is an Information Analyst for Xcel Energy. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a bachelor degree in Marketing in December, 2000. All three authors wish to acknowledge their gratitude to the helpful reviews at the Journal of Marketing Communications and to the OfŽ ce of Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. APPENDIX: DESCRIPTION OF THE PRODUCTS AND EXAMPLES OF BRANDS IN EACH OF THE SUPER BOWL ADVERTISEMENT CATEGORIES

Beverages Nearly 30% of the Super Bowl advertisements in the 1990s were for beverages. This beverage category consisted primarily of two types of beverage products: beer and soft drinks. Pepsi was the only brand that advertised every year. Their advertisements promoted Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Crystal Pepsi and, most recently, Pepsi One. Budweiser was the leading beer advertiser. They advertised in nine out of the ten Super Bowls studied, including several Bud Bowl advertisement extravaganzas.

Vehicles, tyres and motor oils Twenty-one car and truck manufacturers used the Super Bowl as a medium for advertising. General Motors, Honda, Pontiac, Subaru and Toyota purchased Ž ve or more Super Bowl time slots in the 1990s. The one-time Super Bowl advertisers included Audi, Cadillac, Mitsubishi and Jeep.

Telecommunications, Ž nancial services and electronic business The telecommunications and Ž nancial services advertisement category is growing rapidly. In 1999 two Internet sites, and, used the Super Bowl for advertising. Several telecommunication companies, namely GTE, AT&T, Sprint and MCI, in striving to beat their competition in a deregulated market advertised as well. The Ž nancial services



category included companies such as Oracle, Principle Financial Group, New York Life and First Union.

Food and restaurants The food and restaurant advertisement category contained advertisements for food products and eating establishments. Some of the food products advertised included snack foods, breakfast cereals and chilli. The restaurants that advertised were large-chain fast-food establishments, including Burger King, McDonald’s, Subway and Pizza Hut.

Films and entertainment The Super Bowl has been a very effective advertisement medium for Hollywood. Sixty-two percent of the advertisements in this category were placed during the last three Super Bowls studied. The blockbuster hits making more than 200 million in US box ofŽ ce revenues included Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Men in Black, The Lost World and Independence Day.

Apparel The apparel advertisement category contains advertisements by various clothing and footwear manufacturers. Sixty-one percent of the advertisements in this category were from two rival companies, namely Nike and Reebok. Other advertisers included Lee, Tommy HilŽ ger, LA Gear, Victoria’s Secret and Fila.

Non-food consumer packaged goods and retail The non-food consumer packaged goods and retail advertisement category is comprised of a mix of many different products. Some of these products include home appliances, beauty products and home Ž tness equipment. Master Lock has been a major advertiser in this category; they used the Super Bowl as one of their few mediums of advertising until the 1996 Super Bowl.

Transport services and lodgings The transport services and lodgings advertisement category included a variety of products. Rental car companies, airlines, hotels, cruise ships and package delivery companies were grouped together into this advertisement category.

Analgesics and over-the-counter medication The analgesics and over-the-counter medication advertisement category has few advertisers. Tylenol, Advil, Nuprin, Sudafed and Alka-Seltzer are a few of the brands that have been advertised in the Super Bowl.

Credit cards American Express, MasterCard and Visa were the three credit card companies that used the Super Bowl as a medium for advertising. The credit card advertisement category is the smallest Super Bowl advertisement category with only 16 advertisements placed in the last decade. Given the recent interest surge in this category, it will likely experience future growth.