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January 25, 2011

Celebrities Lose Influence in Super Bowl Ads, Researchers Find

Chuck TomkovickRama YelkurIf the companies that are spending millions to advertise during next month's Super Bowl want viewers to like their ads, they should skip the pop stars and instead include a cute kid in their ad, according to University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire marketing professors Dr. Chuck Tomkovick and Dr. Rama Yelkur, who have done multiple studies on Super Bowl advertising.

"In the past, including a celebrity in your ad was a no-brainer," said Tomkovick. "For many years the use of celebrities was among the top predictors of popular Super Bowl ads. But our most recent research shows that's no longer true. Celebrities have lost their influence when it comes to popular Super Bowl ads."

With most Super Bowl ads now running 30 seconds, the length of an ad also is no longer a predictor of ad likeability, Tomkovick said.

Instead, the inclusion of children has become a top predicator of Super Bowl ad likeability, Tomkovick said. Limiting the amount of information shared about a product during the ad also was added to the list of top five ad likeability predictors, he said.

"Humor, animals and product category have endured for 20 years as high predictors of ad popularity," Tomkovick said, noting that product categories like beverages and chips continue to be popular among viewers. "New to the list of top likeability predictors are the use of children and limiting the amount of information shared about a product or brand. In other words, the less you talk about your product, the more people like it."

The role of product information is of particular note because unlike other variables where more is better, the reverse is true for product information in Super Bowl ads, Yelkur said.

"This finding contradicts the traditional beliefs about touting a product's benefits," Yelkur said. "Super Bowl audiences are not interested in hearing much about a product in these ads."

Sex appeal and music also don't influence ad popularity, Tomkovick said. The Super Bowl is a family event so popular ads tend to be family friendly, he said.

"All of this matters to advertisers because if people like the ad, they are more likely to like the product," Yelkur said. "And if they like the product, they are more likely to buy it. Successful Super Bowl ads can generate sales."

Super Bowl ads are more powerful than ever because they are now available in so many formats, often long before and after the actual football game, Tomkovick said. Some companies produce multiple versions of ads and ask people to vote online on their favorite version prior to Super Sunday, and Super Bowl ads can be found on You Tube and other websites immediately following the game, he said.

"These ads are seen by millions of people who don't see the actual football game, and they can be viewed multiple times by the same people in a variety of formats," Tomkovick said. "Running a 30-second Super Bowl ad is no longer a one-time thing."

The most recent ad likeability research by Tomkovick and Yelkur involved studying all 538 Super Bowl ads that aired from 2000-09. The research replicated and extended research that they had completed in the 1990s.

Additional research recently completed by Tomkovick and Yelkur also found that the aggregate stock prices of publicly traded firms that ran in-game Super Bowl ads outperformed the Standard & Poor's 500 by more than 1 percent during a two-week period of time (Monday before the Super Bowl through the Friday after the game).

"One percent doesn't sound like much until you realize that it translates into tens of billions of dollars," Yelkur said. "The stock price performance wasn't related to ad popularity or any specific industry category. Our research suggests that advertising in the Super Bowl is a tradable event independent of actual ad content or other predictors."

Researchers studied data from 1996-2010 and found that the Super Bowl advertising firms outperformed the S&P 500 during the two-week timeframe in the vast majority of those years, Yelkur said.

Most Super Bowl related research has focused on the likeability of the ads rather than on financial factors, Yelkur said.

"This study examines the financial performance of the firms that invest in Super Bowl ads and demonstrates there is a net positive effect, regardless of how likeable the ads were scored in USA Today's annual Ad Meter publication," Yelkur said.

The stock price performance likely occurs because a company that invests in Super Bowl advertising activates its workforce in ways to prepare to deliver the goods or services advertised, Tomkovick said. The Super Bowl ads also send a message to consumers and traders that the company is strong, he said, noting that reaching a large and highly involved audience of viewers also is a factor.

Both the "Super Bowl Ads Linked to Firm Value Enhancement" and "Super Bowl Ad Likeability: Enduring and Emerging Predictors" research studies involved undergraduate student researchers Ashley Hofer, a communication major from Osseo, and Daniel Rozumalski, a marketing major from De Pere who graduated in May 2010. The stock price paper also lists graduate student Cory Coulombe as a co-author. Both studies have been submitted to professional marketing journals for possible publication.

"To the best of our knowledge, these two studies are the most comprehensive and most current studies done on Super Bowl ad likeability and stock performance," Tomkovick said.

For more information, contact Dr. Chuck Tomkovick at 715-836-2529 or tomkovcl@uwec.edu, or Dr. Rama Yelkur at 715-836-4674 or yelkurr@uwec.edu.

Source: UW-Eau Claire News Bureau

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