Ad Spending Outlook 2011: With Football As My Guide…

24 Jan

Walk through the parking lot at almost any NFL game and you’re likely to see everything from decades old beaters to brand-spankin’ new Porsche Turbos.  American Football appeals to virtually all Americans, from “the poor” to “the rich” and everyone in between.  Companies know this.  Advertising firms know this.  Networks know this.  The NFL knows this.  Not only do they know it, they embrace and exploit it.

By observing the commercials aired during NFL games – especially games like yesterday’s conference championships (the “semi-finals,” for those unfamiliar with American Football), we can observe current the ad spending habits within industries and firms.

Because I’m a bitter New York Giants fan and I was primarily watching the Chicago Bears v. Green Bay Packers NFC Championship game to see if I won a bet with @eradke and @ilkandcookies, I decided to keep track of every commercial that aired during the game.  Herein lie the results:

This game aired on Newscorp’s Fox 5 network in Northern NJ (just outside of NYC), so there were a ton of ads for other programs/shows on Fox, which is why, unsurprisingly on an unadjusted basis, the most commercials were…for Fox/Fox programs.

If we strip-out Fox’s self-promotion though, the top 5 (publicly traded in the U.S.) advertisers are:

  1. Toyota
  2. Verizon
  3. GM
  4. AT&T
  5. Ford

Here’s the complete list:

I remember watching Football games over the past decade seeing some B2B ads, yet this list is almost entirely comprised of B2C ones (the full Excel file shows this in more detail).  Notoriously absent are some of the biggest B2B firms like IBM (anyone remember the knights of the round table consultants Superbowl ads?), GE, and others.

I’m not quite sure this is out of the ordinary for NFL games or Conference Championships on average, but I counted 92 unique commercials, of which only 12 were repeated, for a grand total of 106 commercials from kickoff through the end of the game, including ads for Fox/Fox programs.  While watching most NFL games, it seems like the same car (mobile, etc) commercials are repeated ad nauseum almost every commercial break, and that over the course of a game there’s maybe 25 different/unique commercials aired.  Of course I can’t quantify this, but a quick google search seems to indicate this is not an unrealistic observation…

Even if we strip-out the network (Fox) commercials, that’s still 79 unique commercials.  I just can’t believe there’s anywhere near that # of unique commercials during most NFL games or hell, during any ~3-hour program, sports, award show, or whatever!  I’m not sure what to make of this, perhaps those of you in advertising/marketing can help me out here in the comments and/or via email (much appreciated in advance!).

As you can see, the majority of commercials came from companies in the auto, beer (er, “beverage”), fast food, mobile, and consumer technology industries.  I consider myself somewhat of a “car guy,” or at least someone who’s aware of the players and goings-on in the auto industry.  That’s why I’m a bit confused by the mix of of auto ads that were on during the game.  The vast majority of them were neither new nor produced just for the NFL postseason but rather several months old.  Tenor, though, isn’t what made the mix odd; in prior years, we had the “pickup truck wars” with Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra/Dodge Ram/Toyota Tundra/Nissan Titan, and the (mid-)luxury wars with BMW/Audi/Mercedes/Jaguar/Infinity/Lexus battling it out for automotive perception supremacy, but yesterday, these competitive juices seem to have subsided, likely due to economic reality (and/or silly management decisions/notions).

Interestingly, the only major auto firms with a U.S. presence that DIDN’T have any commercials during the game were Jaguar, Volvo, Saab, Rover, Mini, Mercedes, Kia and subsidiaries of firms that did have ads on during the game (e.g. Lincoln, Infinity, etc).

Similarly, the only popular national fast food chains that DIDN’T have any commercials during the game (excluding subsidiaries again) were Wendy’s, and, uh, pretty sure just Wendy’s. I’m also surprised the only quick-casual restaurant commercial that aired here was for Brinker’s Chilis, as I’d expected OSI’s Outback Steakhouse, DIN’s Applebees, DRI’s Olive Garden and their ilk to have several commercials on during the game, considering their relatively strong presence in the area.  This seems like an appropriate time for a caveat:  This data should represent 95%+ of commercials, but may only count as little as 90% of them (A guy’s gotta relieve himself eventually!).

The Big 3 cell carriers were all represented today with typically annoying/lame commercials.  Noticeably absent were T-Mobile and whatever other MVNO/mid-chain telecom/mobile brands are still around.  A number of ads started as cell carrier/wireless commercials and then allocated a few seconds at the end to a specific handset/handset maker or vice versa.  On a bit of a tangent, I’m not quite convinced – to say the least – this painfully frequent commercial “plot structure” is effective for either party.

In closing, let’s consider the entirety of the data I was able to capture.  In one of the most affluent (in terms of geograpic area, per-capital, and total wealth) areas of the country, most of the ads were for cell phones, cell phone service, fast food joints, low-to-mid priced cars (the Audi A8 excepted), and a variety of other low-to-middle-end consumer discretionary goods and services.

I can’t speak to what ads were shown on different networks in different parts of the country, but broadly speaking, if this is what’s seen in this part of the country, perhaps the “return of the consumer” and the broader “recovery” are just a bit exaggerated…

*The Excel spreadsheet is available upon request via email.*

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