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Why Do So Many Super Bowl Ads Fail?


While they are still fresh in my mind, I wanted to work through my dismay at the quality and effectiveness of many of the ads run during the recent Super Bowl telecast. There’s a lot of chatter critiquing individual ads the day or two after they run, but I don’t see a lot of analysis about the craft in general and what it means for broadspectrum media marketing in general. I won’t speak directly to any single effort, or run down the list and comment, that’s been done to death. Here’s my take:


  • Pressure – with :30 spots topping $1.5 million at the bottom end for TV time during the telecast, there is tremendous pressure to use that expensive time to best advantage, and to be memorable so people will talk about it the next day and beyond. However, being “memorable” for memory’s sake is a flawed tactic if the brand doesn’t already resonate, or the ad attempts to shift brand perception too far outside the limits of credibility.
  • Dilution – the audience touted by the Super Bowl telecast is not only huge but is much more diverse than it used to be – that male 25-34 demo has been diluted significantly as parties, gatherings, and the halftime shows have broadened the audience to take in women, older men who remember the good old days, and twenty-somethings watching for the halftime shows. Whenever you have to play to that broad an audience, the tendency to pitch to the lowest common denominator is terribly great. By appealing to everyone, they don’t really appeal to anyone.
  • Shock Value – in the past, the most unusual, the most shocking ads have been the ones that garnered the most attention, got the most buzz in days after their airing. Now, it’s a contest to see who is going to be the most shocking, the most outrageous, regardless of whether it actually moves the needle for recognition, or god forbid, sales. Shock for shock’s sake is great for slasher movies, not so great for advertising.
  • Lack of Taste – as societies’ level of etiquette and civility toward its own members has declined, so has it’s need and desire to be tasteful. Who needs to be tasteful if it’s not going to be appreciated, right? So some of the more crass, tasteless ads often resonate with the younger, newer audience who are the next generation of both creatives and pundits, who have a different set of taste values than the older generation before them.
  • Lack of Fundamentals – some of the ads are just bad because they don’t do the job we expect them to do. They may not have been intended to do the job traditional ads are crafted to do – sell product, or reinforce brand. Some of them are just there to make an impression for a short time – see number three – rather than reinforcing the brands behind them, the ads have become a product within themselves. Some are so bad at the traditional function, they functionally fail, as day-after polling repeatedly shows – you remember the ad but not the product or the company for whom they were made – kinda defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?


Those are just a few of the reasons that for most of the core Super Bowl audience, many of the ads run during the game seem strange, bizarre, poor or just plain awful. The goal has become, “Hey, we need a Super Bowl ad” instead of “Hey, we need a new campaign, and by the way, the Super Bowl has a great audience that matches the demo we need to hit,” which has lead to the current crop of high-visibility, low-memorability, poorly identified spots that miss the mark on any other day, but on Super Sunday, they become darlings – for about 48 hours. Pretty expensive two days, if you ask me . . .

About David Poulos

Speaker, Consultant and Author David Poulos is known as the Marketing Doctor because of his proven ability to accurately diagnose and prescribe the most effective solutions for successful business growth with absolute surgical precision.

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