Superbowl madness

February 1, 2008 | By | 7 Replies More

Readers in the U.S. know that the ‘Big Game’ is this weekend, and many of you will be watching it, either to watch the game itself or to see the very expensive advertisements. Here are a couple of things to ponder while you’re eating munchies and savoring the beverage of your choice:

1) A football game is a timed event — four quarters of fifteen minutes each. That’s a total of one hour of game time, yet even a regular-season football game rarely finishes in less than three hours. That means for every minute of game time you watch, you’ll be watching two minutes of filler, and this doesn’t include the pre-game and post-game programming. The Superbowl is worst of all, with pre-game programming that can last six or more hours. All for one hour of actual game time.

2) Because the Superbowl draws a gigantic audience (what marketers call “reach”), companies pay a big premium to buy advertising time during the game. So here’s my question: if a company advertises on the Superbowl — and pays big bucks to reach a big audience — then why do so few of these companies create superb, memorable ads for their expensive airtime? Time and time again, I’ve seen ads on the Superbowl that are the exact same insipid, worn-out old advertisement that a company has aired many times before. It’s a monumental waste of their ad budget. It’s like throwing a big, expensive party, inviting lots of people, renting a huge auditorium, hiring a band…and then serving stale food. Why spend the money on expensive airtime if you’re not going to use it to broadcast a fabulous ad that takes maximum advantage of that expensive airtime?

Well, those are two of my thoughts about Superbowl madness. What are yours?


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About the Author ()

Grumpypilgrim is a writer and management consultant living in Madison, WI. He has several scientific degrees, including a recent master’s degree from MIT. He has also held several professional career positions, none of which has been in a field in which he ever took a university course. Grumps is an avid cyclist and, for many years now, has traveled more annual miles by bicycle than by car…and he wishes more people (for the health of both themselves and our planet) would do the same. Grumps is an enthusiastic advocate of life-long learning, healthy living and political awareness. He is single, and provides a loving home for abused and abandoned bicycles. Grumpy’s email: grumpypilgrim(AT)@gmail(DOT).com [Erich’s note: Grumpy asked that his email be encrypted this way to deter spam. If you want to write to him, drop out the parentheticals in the above address].

Comments (7)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    I watch the SuperBowl commercials on YouTube. This saves time, and the quality is better than I can get via my rabbit ears.

  2. Erich Vieth says:


    My main concern is that no more children be exposed to nipples during the half-time show. The FCC levied a half-million dollar fine, so it MUST have been a huge deal, right? I suspect that millions of children are still undergoing therapy as a result of being exposed (sort of) to Janet Jackson’s nipple. See Wikipedia for details (but please don’t allow your children to view the image accompanying the Wikipedia article. Further, don’t ever discuss nipples with your children. And don’t discuss birth control. And don’t allow your children to look at their own bodies in the mirror.

    Second, I’d advise anyone interested in the psychology behind the spectacle to also read Mark Tiedemann’s post, Super Bull.

    As far as the commercials, I agree with Dan; I’m happy to wait for them to show up on Youtube (apparently, you will also be able to catch those 2008 ads here ). I can probably do without any and all of those products for the rest of my life, and I’ve sworn off watching most sports spectacles, so I won’t be up to speed on the Super Bowl commercials if you want to discuss them with me . . .

    As far the “need” for clever ads, I would note that it is sometimes the case that the most clever (and therefore enjoyable) ads are not good at moving products and services. Sometimes the “boring” ads are more effective as advertising. While looking for an article that supports this point, I stumbled onto this site that contains many clever ads (I don’t know how effective they were).

  3. Ben says:

    "watching two minutes of filler"

    I won't get snippy. (Or at least try and pretend I'm not!)

    The two minutes of filler is necessary. The players need to *rest* between plays. Those of us who watch sports and are officionados (the spelling seems to be wrong, so maybe I am not one) understand the subtleties of play calling, substitutions, body language, trash talking, injury gawking, coaching, *cheeeeerleaders*. All of which happen in the "two minutes". Hey, 6 trillion americans couldn't be wrong, could they? Grumpy, I will (promise to have Erich) pay your beer tab, if you promise to enjoy the superbowl this sunday. It is the new york football giants against the patriots. Who incidentally are playing for a PERFECT 19-0 record. Be there or be square!

    But (I agree) commercials are the enemy, in my opinion. Sometimes there are funny ones, but usually just car adds and mortgage crap and beer.

  4. Edgar Montrose says:

    Oh, there's so much that can be said about this phenomenon.

    Is there any difference between Americans' love of (American) football and Europeans' love of (soccer) football? They're all just fulfilling a need of people to (1) find a safe outlet for their natural aggression, (2) to associate themselves with strength, power, conquest, or any other attribute that gives the impression that they are somehow "better" than someone else. (An aside; when I lived in Syracuse, NY, the locals' allegiance to the Giants, Jets, or Bills were perfectly coordinated with the teams' won/lost records.)

    What I find most interesting about Americans' love of football is that, among the most common choices for this "simulated warfare" [football, soccer/hockey/basketball (essentially the same game), and baseball], football is the most "warlike". That is to say, real warfare is not continuous. Real warfare is composed of strategic plans and decisions, troop movements, attacks, battles, retreats, regrouping, and formal, coordinated team efforts … much like football. Soccer and its brethren, while definitely requiring team effort, are more continuous and require much more ad hoc cooperation among the team members. Baseball, except for the occasional double-play, is one-on-one.

    What does this love of very realistic "simulated warfare" by Americans say about Americans? I'll leave that for the reader to decide.

    As for developing "superb, memorable" ads for the Superbowl; perhaps they blew their wad on the airtime, so there was nothing left for the ad? One wonders if their money might be better spent developing a "superb, memorable" ad and NOT airing it during the Superbowl. On the other hand, nowadays it is very common for the cost of the packaging to exceed the cost of the product.

    All that said, I have seen at least a few seconds of every Superbowl, and I'll see a few seconds of this one, too. Just to say that I did.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    The superbowl is "great" because lots of people are watching. There are many terrific football contests all season long. Arguably, many regular season games are more interesting contests, more memorable as football games.

    The superbowl is a priori designated the greatest game of the year, but it might or might not be a great game. Many Superbowl contests are not interesting contests. They might or might not be involve the two best teams (often, the two best teams seem to be from the same conference, and it would be impossible for them to play each other in the Superbowl).

    What makes the Superbowl important is that lots of people watch it. A huge audience has the power of turning lots of ordinary things into seeming extraordinary things.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Then again (see above), this year's Superbowl was a terrific game with an exciting ending (I caught the last half).

  7. Edgar Montrose says:

    I tuned-in with about two minutes left in the 3rd quarter, watched just far enough into the 4th to see that the Patriots were being outplayed by the Giants, and went to bed. (I live in New England, and had to be up at 5:30 this morning.) I guess I missed the exciting part. The commercials were nothing to brag about, either.

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