Tuesday, February 2, 2010

On the Economic Rationality of Intentionally Bad Super Bowl Commercials

Why would companies pay millions of dollars for a 30-second advertising spot during the Super Bowl? On National Public Radio this morning, a representative of EA Sports, which has purchased advertising time during this year's Super Bowl, gave the best and most concise answer I have yet heard (which I'm paraphrasing): Unlike commercials during other shows and events, people actually watch the Super Bowl commercials.

Indeed, Super Bowl commercials have become something of an event in and of themselves. Viewers are known to rank them, and news and sports programs after the Super Bowl often comment on the quality of  Super Bowl commercials.

Given all that, I wonder whether it makes sense for at least some advertisers to buy very expensive advertising time during the Super Bowl, but then purposefully invest little in the production of their commercials. If viewers are watching the commercials anyway because at least some (but never all) of the commercials are unusually funny and/or inventive, then it might make economic sense for an advertiser to free-ride on those unusually funny and/or inventive ads by presenting a normal or even sub-par commercial because people will be watching anyway. Viewers who rank commercials may judge it harshly, but the fact that they would be judging it at all means that they watch it, and that's what seems to count in television advertising.

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