The Winning Pitch

By Manoj Khimji, managing director of The MediaVantage.

Earlier this month, Super Bowl LII (aka Super Bowl 52 for the non-purists) saw the Philadelphia Eagles overcome the New England Patriots in what was widely regarded as being the most attacking NFL finale in the modern era. A total of 17 different records were broken, including the most combined passing yards (874), most total yards (1,151), most field goals (5), fewest punts (1), fewest fumbles (0), and most touchdown passes (7). But the number that sticks the most is 5. $5m, that is. $5m for a 30 second ad spot, with approximately 100 ad spots running throughout the coverage on NBC on February 4, resulting in a record-breaking $500m advertising revenue day for NBC.
Hats off to the media sales people responsible for not only selling the spots, but more importantly pricing the ratecard per spot for what is the media investment equivalent of buying 500 full pages in Gulf News or 15,000 prime time spots on Virgin Radio Dubai. Even ad spots during the Oscars, which has a far wider and more desirable quality audience, go for $2m per 30 seconds.
Given that the event itself was not even in the top 20 most-viewed broadcast events of all time (there were a reported 103.4 million viewers this year, its lowest for a decade), what is it that inspires brands to lay down millions of dollars for the airtime? What is it that made Amazon, Doritos, Febreze, M&Ms, Bud Light and Persil sign off media plans with astronomical figures. How come Lexus, Jeep, Hyundai, Kia and Toyota have no problem going next to each other in commercial breaks (did I mention at $5m a pop)?
With the rapid growth of programmatic advertising over the past five years and the perennially perceived death of traditional media, it’s refreshing to see emotion and sentiment reappear every now and again in media planning. It’s refreshing to see money being invested in production, and not only in the text characters in an SEO ad. It is refreshing to witness a sort of hybrid real life awards platform, where brands are advertising products they actually want to sell and not only ads they want to win awards with, albeit with an ulterior motive of wanting to produce the best Super Bowl ad of that particular year. It’s evolved rather nicely into a brand+agency versus brand+agency sporting contest of one-upmanship, much like the sport around which the brands and agencies are advertising. Somehow trying to get this impact through the $5m purchase of 2.1bn programmatically bought banners might be a struggle, cost-effective as it may be.
What strikes me is that this is not necessarily the most watched event on US television this year (and certainly not an event which will have the most impact on the lives of its viewers), but rather it is the best sold event to advertisers.
Generating $500m of ad revenue via its pre-game, post-game and commercial breaks, this match between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles (hardly two fancied geographies in the United States) is an event a prospective advertiser could not foresee to be an entertaining or enjoyable game, and with no guarantee that viewers would even stay tuned in for the duration.
In many ways it brings things full circle to the advent of American sports and the reason they are generally broken up into quarters instead of halves, include multiple timeouts for each time, and why stop-starts are a major feature of the games: the advertisement breaks. What better way to squeeze in more prime-time spots and create more ad revenue than by creating longer games?
It’s the perfect combination of sentiment, viewer attention and timing. I wonder what events in the Middle East could command a similar revenue potential? The opening of the Dubai Canal, DSF Fireworks, the inauguration of an airline’s 150th A380? Perhaps we need to create better spectacles in the region, and be more adept at packaging and selling them as showcases. The size of the markets are different, I hear you say. The USA population stands at 320 million, while the Middle East is a shade under 220 million, so the difference is not massive. The ability to create, market and sell is where we may be seeing the bigger gap.