Craig Wood addresses the Bloomington Press Club
Craig Wood addresses the Bloomington Press Club on the high prices and questionable effectiveness of Super Bowl advertising. (Photo by Gena Asher)

Of the 10 most-viewed television shows in history, nine are Super Bowl games. So no wonder advertisers pay millions for just 30 seconds of air time during each year’s big game.

Craig Wood, advertising lecturer at the IU School of Journalism, shared his expertise with Bloomington Press Club members at the annual lunch meeting Jan. 23. Because Indianapolis is hosting the Super Bowl this year, the board decided to invite Wood, a former executive vice president of Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency in New York, to explain the business of Super Bowl advertising.

Using slides to illustrate key points, Wood gave the background of Super Bowl advertising trends. During the first Super Bowl televised in 1967, a 30-second spot sold for $40,000. This year, the price is $3.5 million. What do advertisers get for their buck? About 150 million viewers, according to estimates, with nearly one billion to eventually see the game as it airs in 40 countries and in 23 languages.

Wood broke down those numbers into gender and income demographics. While men and women viewers are about the same in number in the 20-29 age group, more men view than women in older populations. By income, 61-73 percent of people earning more than $250,000 are likely to view, whereas only about 30 percent of those earning less than $10,000 are likely to view.

Still, taking your message to Super Bowl viewers doesn’t guarantee success. Wood said there are no statistics that track effectiveness of ads, but advertisers seem to think the sexiness of ads such as Go Daddy work.

“Never mind that surveys don’t bear that out,” said Wood, who added that children and animals continue to be sure-fire attractions in ads. “Expect to see more sex in ads this year as Go Daddy has set the pace.”

And the ads my not come from well-known companies. Of the top 10 brands according to Business Week, none are in the list of top spenders on Super Bowl ads.

The ads will be critiqued, loved and hated, though. As advertisers save ads for debut during the game, and some advertise only during the game, watching the ads has become a sport itself, conversation for Twitter and Facebook during the game and at the office water cooler the next day.

Wood showed a retrospective of 30-second ads from the last 30 years, evoking laughter and groans from the audience, and talked with insider’s knowledge about those that were failures or successes. One hit from last year, an ad from VW in which a child in Darth Vader gear tries to zap his mom, his toys and his dog before finally getting the lights to blink on the family VW, brought forth a lot of “awwws.”

“But we have no way of knowing if people will remember what the ad is selling,” said Wood. “Do you remember that this is a VW ad, or just that it is cute? Often, people remark about the ad and then don’t recall the product, which is not a very good return on investment for these companies.”