Bad news for Super Bowl advertisers: Consumers might like watching the ads that air during the big game, but those high-profile commercials don’t always push people to buy products or build much interest. A new study by the advertising evaluation research company Communicus has found that 80 percent of Super Bowl commercials don’t work.


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“Advertising should make people buy products, or at least build purchase interest. Judged against this standard, four out of five Super Bowl XLVII commercials failed to deliver,” the company said.

Communicus studied commercials from the 2013 Super Bowl and interviewed 1,050 adults  between the ages of 21-59 before the game — asking them to rank 74 brands on preference, usage, and planned future purchase intentions. Included among the set were 33 Super Bowl advertisers. The group was not told that the survey was associated with the Super Bowl or advertising. The research firm followed up with the group two weeks later, asking similar and additional questions, to see what Super Bowl ads they saw — measuring the effectiveness of each commercial in motivating the consumers to investigate or purchase items from a brand.

Results of the study showed that even though consumers like certain commercials, they aren’t necessarily effective in selling product. For instance, during last year’s Super Bowl the Tide “Stain” ad was generally lauded as a good commercial, but didn’t move consumers to buy more of the laundry detergent.

On the other hand, Budweiser’s widely praised “Brotherhood” commercial tugged at the heartstrings, featuring a rancher raising a Budweiser Clydesdale, a group of horses used for promotions and commercials by the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company. Communicus found that the ad drove preference for the brand.

The Super Bowl is the most-watched event of the year for advertisers, commanding up to $4 million for a 30-second commercial. Organizations like USA Today and analytics firms like Ace Metrix rank the commercials using a wide variety of metrics. Some companies post polls, others test a small sample group.

Because of the high level of attention paid to commercials airing during the Super Bowl, many brands fork out the cash in hopes of benefiting from the exposure. Yet it’s also a highly competitive environment, with some of the year’s catchiest and entertaining commercials debuting. Given the high cost of advertising during the game — and the relative lack of effectiveness in persuading people to purchase what’s being advertised — is it worth it? Brands are looking at the return on investment and some are opting out. E-Trade and Subway won’t be airing commercials during this year’s Super Bowl. E-Trade says it’s focusing less on TV while Subway wants to air ads during the Winter Olympics.

According to Communicus, in order to be considered a true success, Super Bowl ads need to do two things: engage consumers and persuade them to purchase. One problem with Super Bowl ads is that many of them air just once during the game. But ads are generally more persuasive when they are shown more frequently — across multiple media platforms.

Communicus believes that the advertisers best suited to succeed in the Super Bowl environment are brands who are introducing a new product or have real news.

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