February 5. Super Bowl XL. Some 90 million people are glued to their TV screens. They’re munching on chips, nursing beers, and rooting for either the Seahawks or the Steelers to bring home the Lombardi trophy. Everyone is immersed in the game’s play-by-play action. The skirmishes. The fouls. The passes. The rushes. The touchdowns.
By and large, everyone is paying an equal amount of attention to the 30-second commercials for which dozens of advertisers, including Anheuser-Busch (10 spots) and Pepsi-Cola (four spots), have each plunked down an average of $2.5 million. For this deep-pocketed group of major marketers, the price tag comes to more than $83,000 per second of brand-awareness-raising.
It’s what they have to pay, they figure, to keep their brands “top of mind.”
Will some things never change? Are some companies such creatures of habit that they will continue to blindly engage in mass-marketing activities much as they have since 1941, when broadcast TV commercials first began to air, even when the world around them has undergone such dramatic change? Can mass-marketing investments at this level still be justified? The answer is yes and no.
The Super Bowl. The World Series. The Academy Awards. The Grammy Awards. The Olympic Games. These and a handful of other TV programs that draw vast numbers of people–in some cases, more than half of the TV viewing audience, across practically every conceivable consumer segment–will continue to sell all their commercial time for record-breaking sums of money. After all, if in one fell swoop you can reach half of the nation’s population–a population likely to be more attentive than usual (as tends to be the case with these programs, since the commercials boast higher-than-average entertainment value)–than you’re almost guaranteed to reach a large portion of your target audience.
Let’s do the math. Assume that roughly half of the expected 90 million viewers for Super Bowl XL stick around for the commercial breaks. In theory, a major marketer with a target base that comprises 20% of the general population would effectively reach 5 million “prime prospects” at a cost of approximately $0.25 a person. On a cost-per-impression basis, that price may be highly attractive, given the alignment of business objectives and the rarity of the opportunity to reach so many prospects en masse.
Meanwhile, of course, 99% of TV programs fail to attract tens of millions of people, or even a tiny fraction of that number. As the universe of viewers continues to fragment into increasingly tiny pieces, the economics of mass marketing become increasingly less attractive, and the economics of precision marketing become more attractive. This is especially true for products with narrower appeal than, say, Diet Pepsi.
So what’s a marketer to do? Forget about mass marketing altogether, except when it comes to those few programs that have enormous audience draw? Larry Light, the former CMO of McDonald’s, seemed to be making this suggestion when he recently declared: “Mass-marketing mass messages to masses of people via mass media is a mass mistake.”
The alliteration is nice, but the message is ultimately too extreme.
The reality of the situation is that mass marketing is here to stay, even if it’s been knocked from its pedestal as the primary means by which companies can reach consumers. Today mass marketing has, in effect, become a point solution.
To become part of a complete solution, mass marketing needs to join forces with precision marketing. The two need to work hand in hand to optimize value–which means not only increasing brand awareness but also capturing customer information while interacting with customers in a context-sensitive manner, based on their individual wants, needs, interests, situations, and preferences.
Fortunately a growing number of major marketers–including McDonald’s (which is passing on Super Bowl XL but not the Winter Olympics)–are become increasing adept at integrating their channels so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. Consider an offline-to-online promotion conducted last fall by ConAgra Foods, America’s second largest retail food supplier, with annual sales in excess of $27 billion.
During the season premiere of ABC’s series “Lost,” ConAgra ran ads for Orville Redenbacher popcorn that enticed viewers to visit an Orville-sponsored Website where they could view exclusive “Lost” content, enter a sweepstakes, and enroll in future communications from Orville Redenbacher.
According to Kevin Doohan, director of Web marketing at ConAgra, the online medium increased the campaign’s marketing dollars by orders of magnitude. “In the past, we would have run the promotion similarly but had not nearly as robust an online component,” he said. “With ‘Get “Lost” with Orville,’ for limited incremental investment, we got maximum incremental benefit… Leveraging the online component was a great way to extend Orville’s engagement beyond the 30-second spot.”
With respect to Super Bowl XL, it will be interesting to see how many advertisers in this year’s pack extend their engagements beyond the 30-second spot–and thereby improve their chances of scoring a touchdown.
Jeff Zabin is coauthor of “Precision Marketing” (Wiley, 2004) and a director in the Precision Marketing Group at Fair Isaac, a provider of marketing decision management solutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.