Super Bowl Xlix Ad Sales Coming Up Short

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It’s the fourth quarter, and there’s still some way to go. Even with the addition of “about a dozen” new advertisers and returning dropouts, “NBC said in November ad sales were moving along slightly more slowly than in prior years,” Advertising Age reported November 17. Before last year’s NFL season started, in September, Fox had sold 90 percent of its availabilities. By December, they were completely sold out. Now, in late November, NBC’s sales have almost, but not quite, matched Fox’s 14 months ago, “approaching” – not at, but approaching – the 90 percent mark, with ten 30-second slots still unsold.

That notwithstanding, NBS Sports evp for sales Seth Winter says he’s “extremely satisfied” with how sales are going (or aren’t). “I’m never ‘extremely satisfied’ until we’re sold out,” he told the New York Times, but “I’m very satisfied with what we see.” But in an interview with USA Today the same day, he was singing a different song, coming up with excuses for the unsold inventory.

One such excuse was the economy. “Generally, the Super Bowl is indicative of the overall marketplace,” Winter whined. “We all understand the market this fourth quarter is slower and less healthy for broadcast and cable TV.”

Another excuse was auto advertisers, who are not launching many new models for 2015. “If they’re not launching, they may not feel compelled to be there [on the Super Bowl broadcast],” Winter says. Last time NBC aired the game, in 2014, they sold 24 spots to car companies. This year, so far, it’s half that number. Jaguar is dropping out, while GM is still sitting on the fence.

A third excuse was advertisers in general. “Some advertisers have undergone restructuring or cutbacks and are concerned about making the investments the Super Bowl requires,” Winter explained, without bothering to mention that thanks to NBC pricing, those investments will be bigger than ever. For a :30 on Super Bowl XLIX February 1, 2015, NBC is charging a record-high $4.5 million. That’s a cool $500,000 – 13 percent – more than Fox’s previous record-setting price for this year’s game. And if you buy more than one spot, NBC will give you a big two percent discount.

Though he didn’t mention it as an excuse, this year’s NFL player domestic violence cases may be hurting ad sales. Procter & Gamble, the world’s biggest advertiser, has cancelled its NFL schedule.

It would seem that neither Winter nor his employer ever heard of the law of supply and demand, which points out that when prices go up, demand goes down. This is particularly true in a “slower” marketplace, where advertisers undergoing “restructuring or cutbacks…are concerned about making” Super Bowl-size investments, and where one major product category has fewer new products to advertise.

As a result, there will be fewer auto advertisers, as well as fewer commercials from what Winter describes, without naming names, as “technology hardware” and “healthier snacks.” But ads for movies, beer, soft drinks, fast food and insurance will take up some of the slack, he claims. As will buys from new and returning advertisers:

  • In what may be the triumph of hope over experience that ended up disappointing so many previous Super Bowl advertising rookies, Loctite is spending a sum equal to its annual ad budget to take an extension of its Super Glue campaign to a :30 in the fourth quarter.
  • Mophie hopes to “significantly increase name recognition” for its smartphone cases and chargers with one :30. Having a catchier name than Mophie might help.
  • Skittles, whose name recognition is already because everyone knows the Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch loves them, will also run a commercial for the first time ever.
  • Wix.com will compete with rival website development platform Squarespace (which debuted on the Super Bowl this year but has so far not committed to next).
  • After years of buying the last spot before kickoff in the pre-game show, McDonald’s will advertise in the game itself.
  • Mercedes, having sat out the last Super Bowl, will be back with a :60 for this one.

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