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2021 Super-Bowl Advertising Effectiveness

Posted by Angela Jeffrey on Feb 17, 2021 3:08:03 PM

Michael J. Wolfe, CEO of Bottom-line Analytics, gave ABX permission to reprint this article, which uses  ABX advertising analytics.  As always, ABX is delighted to share Michael's work because he goes beyond the obvious in his analysis and writing.  Michael is a market mix modeler who has worked with the largest companies (see bio below).  We hope you enjoy this latest article from Michael.

Super Bowl picture 2021

Annual Review of What Works, What Doesn't

This is our annual review of Super-Bow LV 2021 Advertising Effectiveness Review.  Like prior reports, our primary data source is from a database of advertising copy testing data from Advertising Benchmark Index (ABX) covering 59 TV ads run concurrent to the CBS broadcast on February 7.

This is the first post-Covid Super-Bowl event, one with limited attendance due to NFL imposed restrictions. As shown on Exhibit 1, below, this game had the lowest overall Nielsen audience size in a number of years; and a fairly substantial decline in measured ad effectiveness from last year’s record high.

Super Bowl Audience Size and Advertising Effectiveness

A number of perennial and large advertisers, such as Budweiser, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Hyundai Motors, Kia & Discover Card, were among the drop outs from this year’s advertising roster. As a result, as shown on Exhibit 2, this was the first year, since 2007, that the cost for Super Bowl ads did not increase.

Trend chart of Cost per Second ad $000s from Nielsen Media

The Top 10 Most Effective Ads from the 2021 Super Bowl

When we look at the most effective ads (Exhibit 3), all of those tested scored below ABX’s 90th percentile for all tested advertising. This contrasts with the top 10 ads for the 2020 Super Bowl, where all of those ads were in or above the 90th percentile. In fact, the top ad from 2021 would have only been the 38th most effective ad in 2020. This insight paints the picture that the 2021 Super-Bowl really did not produce outstandingly effective advertising commercials. This probably was the main cause for the decline in overall ad effectiveness versus prior years. By all of our measures, these ads were pretty mediocre.  (Note: the green boxes indicate scores above the ABX norm; the Yellow are neutral; and the Red are below norm).

ABX KPI scores for Top 10 Super Bowl Ads

Ad Effectiveness Shifts by Demographic Group

From Exhibits 4 & 5 below, we see answers to the key question of where (or among whom) did these major ad effectiveness declines or shifts occur? If we were to create a simple profile of where the concern or issue is most pronounced, it is among Caucasian or Asian males who are 35-54 years old, and are in higher income brackets. These are the viewers where the ad effectiveness decline is most pronounced. This profile describes a major element of the NFL fan base! Various reasons for this could be linked to the overall decline in TV ratings for most sports since the Covid Pandemic began. It could also be influenced by “Pandemic fatigue.” With restrictions on parties and gatherings and limits on attendance, plus a football game that was not close, all of these could explain why the Super-Bowl audience was smaller and the advertising was less effective.

Super Bowl Ad Effectiveness by Demo Group

Chart comparing Super Bowl ABX Index scores with variances against demographic groups

Viewing the Top 10 Super-Bowl Ads

Here, in order, are links to these ad clips:

Super-Bowl Advertising: Where to now?

The 2021 Super-Bowl turned out to be a disappointment to many. The audience watching declined substantially from last year. The advertising effectiveness was mediocre, at best. We think that Pandemic fatigue probably played a part, but all sports TV ratings have declined since the Pandemic began.   Fans who can not attend and put on their big Super-Bowl parties lose interest, especially when the game is one-sided.

The likelihood for the coming year is that there will be more doubters and probably more dropouts. The fact that the ROI of Super-Bowl advertising will likely put a downside pressure on what networks can charge for advertising on this event. The jury is out.


Michael Wolfe, CEO of Bottom-Line Analytics, brings about 30 years of direct experience in marketing analytics both on the client/ad-agency side and the consulting side. On the former, Michael has worked for Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Kellogg’s and Fisher-Price. He has also consulted with such blue-chip firms as AT&T, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Hyatt Corp., L’Oreal, FedEx and more recently Starbucks. Michael has broad experience in marketing analytics covering marketing ROI modeling, social media analytics, pricing and brand strategy; and he has numerous articles on these subjects.

Contact Information: Michael Wolfe, mjw@bottomlineanalytics.com


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Topics: Super Bowl 2021

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