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More Proof That Super Bowl Ads Are Worthless

Published: January 31, 2007

Author: David Rodnitzky


I just got a nifty email today – a ranking of the top 5 Super Bowl advertisers (in terms of spend) over the last 20 years.

Here’s the tally:

1. Anheuser Busch – $250.8M
2. Pepsico – $190.0M
3. GM – $65.7M
4. Time Warner – $63.4
5. Walt Disney – $43.5M

So with all that great Super Bowl advertising, surely these companies are dominating their respective industries and rolling in the profits, right?

Well, you know what’s coming.

Let’s start at the top with Busch (A-B for short). I found a 2005 report from the Beverage Marketing Corporation with less than encouraging news for A-B. For example:

“A-B’s output surpassed the 100 million-barrel mark in 2002 and continued to grow. However, its 0.4% growth in 2004 was slower than the overall market.”

“Slight to nonexistent growth rates and declining per capita consumption have characterized the U.S. beer industry lately. More often than not during the last decade, when beer volume growth has occurred, it has usually been at less than 1.0% annually; 2004 marked the fifth year in a row of such tepid growth.”

“In 1996, per capita beer consumption stood at 22.0 gallons. By 2004, it was 21.6. Average intake slipped by one gallon since 1991 and by two gallons since 1981.”

The report goes on to note that the only share of the beer market that has consistently grown in the 21st century has been the import market. Why would that be, I wonder? Maybe because imports taste better?

The bottom line, is this: all that money A-B has been plugging into the Super Bowl ad has resulted in a loss of market share in a shrinking industry.

Pepsico, the number two advertiser hasn’t fared much better. For whatever reason, it’s difficult to find publicly available data on market share for soft drinks. Nonetheless, I did find this snippet from 2003: “In fact, [Coca Cola] increased its market share of the $63 billion U.S. soft-drinks market by 0.6 percent to 44.3 percent in 2002. Pepsico, the No. 2 company, saw its market share dip by 0.2 percent to 31.4 percent.”

Why did Coke increase market share? Well, it can’t be the advertising, since Pepsi outspent them on the mother of all advertising opportunities. Instead, the article notes: “Industry analysts credit Vanilla Coke, launched last year, as a huge success for Coke similar to Pepsi’s breakthrough in 2001 with Mountain Dew Code Red, a cherry-flavored variation of the drink.”

Do you see a theme here? It’s not the advertising, but rather the product that matters. Consumers, clearly, are smart enough to decide for themselves whether they like something or not.

How about GM – what have they gotten for the $65.7M they’ve handed over to happy network executives? Again, let’s review the numbers. In an article aptly titled “U.S. Carmakers Bleeding Market Share”:

“GM, the world’s largest automaker, sold 4.66 million cars in the United States in 2004, for a 27.6 percent market share. That number is expected to fall sharply this year to 4.4 million and only 26 percent of the market.”

“Ford and GM have seen an erosion of their domestic market share in recent years as foreign companies, particularly Japanese manufacturers, have enjoyed increasing popularity with American car buyers.”

And just in case you were wondering: “Ford and GM have failed to put out passenger cars that appeal to American consumers.”

Hmm, so I guess big ad campaigns don’t work so well if the actual product isn’t interesting to customers. Maybe some of that $65M should go to, oh I don’t know, product development!

Well, I think I’ve drilled the point home by now. I apologize for the extra dose of sarcasm, I have a bit of cold at the moment and it is making me particularly ornery.

Maybe a Pepsi will make me feel better. Michael Jackson and Britney Spears can’t be wrong, can they?

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