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Ad agency exec talks Super Bowl

February 5, 2016
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Bill McKendry
Bill McKendry. Photo via

The price tag for a 30-second Super Bowl ad this year is $5 million, and advertisers are competing to reach the estimated 114.4 million American adults who will watch the game on Sunday — with at least half tuning in “as much or more for the commercials as for the game.”

Bill McKendry, vice chairman and chief creative at Grand Rapids marketing agency Hanon McKendry, a JDA Worldwide company, said there’s a lot at stake for advertisers during the Super Bowl.

CBS, which is the station broadcasting the game, is expected to earn $250 million in revenue from its ads during the game, and McKendry said the total economic impact of Super Bowl advertising will likely be “well beyond $300 million.”

In addition to that $5-million price tag for an ad, advertisers spend millions just to produce their commercials for the game, which makes creating a memorable ad a high-stakes endeavor.

And sometimes, a commercial can build a years-long legacy.

A Super Bowl spot done in 1993 by Hanon McKendry co-founder, Jim Hanon, when he was a creative director at Chicago-based Leo Burnett, featuring Larry Bird versus Michael Jordan in a shooting contest for a McDonald's Big Mac and titled "Nothing but net,” still ranks as a “Top 10” Super Bowl commercial of all time.

“The last countdown I saw this week for Super Bowl 50 showed this spot ranking number seven of all time, and it's been as high as number three,” McKendry said. “Needless to say, McDonald's has gotten a lot of mileage out of that investment.”

Most advertisers won’t have that kind of luck, even if they produce the most-popular advertisement of the game, but they will have a chance to make a mark on consumers’ memories at least for a few weeks or months.

McKendry said expect to see ads with celebrities, babies and animals, which tend to draw the most audience enthusiasm each year.

“Yes, ads featuring babies, animals, violence and male stupidity score well with viewers,” he said. “If you can combine two or more of those in one ad, you'll likely get a ‘top 10’ placement.

“At the same time, ads that pull on heartstrings can score well, as they really stand out amongst all the spots working hard — often too hard — for a laugh.”

He said add an animal, baby or kid to a sentimental storyline, and “you'll likely win big.”

McKendry said Super Bowl advertising has changed drastically with the growth of the digital landscape and mobile devices.

He said advertisers have moved from driving people to their websites to leveraging all digital platforms, including social media, blogs, digital media properties, mobile and more to maximize and leverage the investment they're making in running a Super Bowl ad.

“They tease and many even release the ads even prior to the Super Bowl to build buzz and excitement for their in-game efforts,” he said.

So far McKendry said there are a handful of advertisements already gaining momentum.

“It seems like every year the pre-game hype surrounds the ads that will feature celebrities,” he said. “This year is no exception, with Budweiser enlisting Helen Mirren, T-Mobile featuring Drake and Hyundai partnering with Ryan Reynolds.”

McKendry said celebrity spots often don’t live up to the hype come game day, but this year could be an exception.

“A Hyundai spot featuring Kevin Hart and a Snicker's ad with William Dafoe dressed up as Marilyn Monroe will likely do well with viewers,” he said.

McKendry said he’d still put his money on an ad featuring an animal or baby being the favorite, though.

He will have the opportunity to double down on his prediction.

His firm will once again be hosting a competition among its advertising pros to pick the top commercial of the Super Bowl.

For years, Hanon McKendry has held an advertising Super Bowl party at its Grand Rapids office to show off its members’ advertising savvy.

This year, McKendry said agency staff and partners from four other markets will be participating. Those markets are Traverse City, Colorado Springs, Atlanta and Indianapolis.

Advertising pros will use a web-based survey to rank ads in real time.

At the end of the night, they’ll tally survey results to determine the ads they think will come out on top with consumers in the USA Today Ad Meter Poll.

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