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Monmouth College business students tracking Super Bowl TV ads

Barry McNamara
02/01/2017
During Tuesday’s session of “BUSI 367 – Advertising” at Monmouth College, Tom Prince’s students learned what Steve Jobs, Old Milwaukee and the Waste Management Phoenix Open have in common in relation to the Super Bowl.

They also got a sneak preview of an immigration-themed Budweiser Super Bowl commercial. The spot was conceived and produced far ahead of President Trump’s travel ban.

“The ad could be somewhat controversial, given the timing,” said Prince, a visiting assistant professor in the College’s department of political economy and commerce. “But the rest of Budweiser’s ads for the year will play off that same theme – hard work and following your dream. Budweiser wants to be known as the hard-working person’s beer.”

Students also received sneak peaks of advertisements from such companies as King’s Hawaiian, Mr. Clean and Tiffany & Co..

As Prince points out, Jobs, Old Milwaukee and the PGA golf tournament all took advantage of the Super Bowl to create a buzz about their product, landing in various spots on the scale of risk associated with the most-watched television program of the year.

“I will tell you right now, here on the last day of January, that the No. 1-rated show for all of 2017 will be the Super Bowl,” Prince said. “There will be more than 100 million people viewing. That figure hasn’t fallen below 100 million viewing since 2010.”

With so many eyes on the big game – and its many commercials – companies have a decision to make, Prince said. Should they invest $5 million for 30 seconds of national advertising? If so, can their creative departments or advertising agencies “get it right?”

“People are investing a huge amount of money, and there’s a huge amount of pressure,” Prince said. “For some companies, the answer about whether to have an ad isn’t just ‘No,’ it’s ‘Hell, no. I don’t want to risk my image.’ Other companies say, ‘Let’s slam this and really show off our brand.’”

For the 1984 Super Bowl, Jobs purchased three 30-second spots. But his board of directors wasn’t sold on one of the spots – a take-off on George Orwell’s novel 1984 that teased the introduction of Apple’s Macintosh personal computer. But Prince said that Apple’s board told him, “Steve, no way. Do not run this ad. It’s too far out there.”

The ad ran anyway, appearing for its one and only time on air during the Super Bowl. Today, said Prince, “it is still considered by AdWeek the best ad ever created and run for a Super Bowl.”

“I can’t begin to tell you how groundbreaking that was,” Prince said. “It conveyed a message of ‘Trust Apple. They’re a really cool and innovative company.’”

Jobs’ and Apple’s fate was far better than the founder of Groupon, who wanted to keep his company’s momentum rolling with an ad during the 2011 Super Bowl. But the commercial, which made fun of Tibet, was panned, the founder was fired, and Groupon “is still trying to recover from that ad,” Prince said.

Beer company Old Milwaukee was interested in advertising during the 2012 Super Bowl, but it was not about to pay thousands of dollars per second for national air time. So the company purchased far less expensive air time in a local market – one of the smallest markets in the nation – and aired an ad that is still earning praise today.

A good number of the 15,280 homes in the tiny North Platte, Neb., market saw Old Milwaukee’s clever ad, featuring comedian Will Ferrell, during the game. But tens of thousands have now seen it, thanks to the “word of mouth” that is associated with viral videos, as well as television specials that highlight classic Super Bowl ads.

Prince said advertising is not the only way that entities can take advantage of the Super Bowl. The Phoenix Open took a negative – a sporting event holding its final day of competition on the same day as the Super Bowl – and spun it into a positive.

The tournament created a “football atmosphere” on the golf course’s 16th hole, shelving the normal polite silence associated with the sport in favor of a rowdy Happy Gilmore atmosphere as players hit their tee shots on the par-3 hole.

“There’s a completely different atmosphere on that hole,” Prince said. “The organizers figured, ‘People are going to be watching their TVs that day. Let’s give them a reason to watch.’ They made it unique, and that’s pretty good marketing.”

When Prince’s students meet on the Tuesday following the Super Bowl, they will be asked their reactions to the advertising, providing a solid sample size of opinions from the key 18-to-24-year-old demographic. Some of the students will likely remember the score of the game between New England and Atlanta, but all of them will know the score of the advertising competition.

“When the clock hits zero in the game, that’s when the real stress begins for the advertisers,” Prince said. “No one wants to be rated at the bottom of the Ad Tracker poll.”