A Minute With...

Jan Slater, expert on branding and advertising

1/29/2014  8:00 am

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the famous “1984” Macintosh ad that many credit for creating what has become the “Super Bowl of advertising.” Companies will be paying an average of $4 million per 30-second commercial during this year’s big game on Feb. 2, according to news reports. What does it say about the game? The advertisers? The economy? Jan Slater, an advertising professor and the dean of the College of Media at Illinois, is a co-author of “What’s in a Name: Advertising and the Concept of Brands.” Prior to her academic career, she spent 25 years in the advertising industry, and built her own regional advertising agency. Slater was interviewed by News Bureau social sciences editor Craig Chamberlain.

Why does spending this money make sense for many of these companies?

image of professor jan slaterThis is the one time of year where people are actually searching for advertising. Advertisers get a good deal of publicity and prestige for being part of the biggest television event of the year, with 108 million viewers last year. People rarely remember who played in the Super Bowl, but they can still recall the Darth Vader kid in the Volkswagen commercial during the 2011 game or the Anheuser-Busch 9/11 tribute commercial of 2002, in which the Clydesdales bowed down to the New York City skyline.

The major advertisers – beverage and automotive brands – are already spending millions, and sometimes billions, on advertising. A $4 million spot is a good investment to associate themselves with the biggest television event of the year and reach a large, attentive audience at the same time.

Why was the “1984” Macintosh ad so important to what has come since?

Apple was really the first brand to take advantage of what the Super Bowl had to offer: audience, attention and entertainment. There are several reasons why this advertisement is considered the benchmark for Super Bowl advertising. First, Apple used the Super Bowl to introduce the Macintosh. It is a perfect venue for product introduction because of the mass exposure.

Second, Apple spent almost its entire marketing budget to air the ad just once, paying $800,000 for airtime and $900,000 for production. Yes, this was risky. But there was no other venue, even in 1984, which could reach as many people at one time with that amount of money. Furthermore, there is a great deal of assurance that the audience would be truly watching at that moment.

Finally, Apple received all kinds of publicity after the Super Bowl. They were the first to get the post-buzz effect because the advertisement was news. It has been estimated that Apple received $5 million of free airtime from all the times news organizations played or talked about the advertisement.

And by the way – do you remember who played in the 1984 Super Bowl? The Los Angeles Raiders beat the Washington Redskins 38-9. See the point?

One news report estimated that $1.5 billion would be spent on ads during seven major TV productions over seven weeks – two NFL conference championship games, the Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics and three award shows. What’s the common denominator?

Reach is key here. There are few opportunities to reach large audiences. The media landscape has fragmented audiences, and some marketers with small budgets do not have enough money to spread around to reach a large demographic. In addition, sporting events have become the most-watched type of television program. They reach the most audiences and people tend to watch them in real time, as opposed to recording them later and skipping over the advertisements.

The same is somewhat true for the Olympics in prime time. However, NBC airs Olympics content on its various cable networks during the day, as well as streaming it on the Web. And the Olympics are over a period of two weeks, so there is naturally going to be some fragmentation of the audience.

The rules for advertising in the Olympics are fairly restrictive, unlike the Super Bowl. This is especially true for the brands that purchase sponsorships. Therefore, the ads are not as humorous, etc.; they are more about pride and patriotism, which is what advertisers want – to associate themselves with supporting the United States, our athletes and the overall global mission of the games.

Have advertising strategies related to the game changed much in recent years? How much is social media a factor?

Oh my, the strategies have done a complete 180. Instead of keeping everything a secret until the advertisement airs in the game, advertisers are now “teasing” the upcoming ads via social media and YouTube, and then releasing the actual spot on social media days before the game. There is so much news coverage of the advertising, advertisers use that coverage to talk about the making of the ad, or give interesting tidbits that heighten the engagement of the consumers within the social media sites.

Most of the time, brands use the “in game” advertising to drive consumers to social media sites where the consumer can play games, see bonus advertising features, win prizes, sign up for test drives – all sorts of interactivity. Twitter is a major player in the Super Bowl – and not just around the advertisements. The NFL and ESPN are managing extensive Twitter campaigns before, during and after the game. Advertisers will do the same.

Also, user-generated content has been popular in Super Bowl advertising since 2006, when Doritos’ “Crash the Super Bowl” contest garnered the three user-generated commercials that became the Doritos Super Bowl commercials. Social media has provided advertisers a great means of measuring the effectiveness of their efforts as well as the means to keep consumers engaged long after the Super Bowl.

Five years ago, in the wake of government bailouts, car companies ran no ads during the Super Bowl. This year’s game will mark the third year in a row where the car industry will lead the pack. Does this say anything about that industry, or the economy overall?

The car industry has rebounded and automotive advertising has always been a big part of the Super Bowl, so it is not surprising that they are back in full force. Hyundai and Chrysler are among the top five Super Bowl advertisers of all time in terms of money spent. This tells you this is a long-term commitment.

The Chrysler ads of late – Eminem talking about Detroit, Clint Eastwood giving a patriotic speech and Paul Harvey talking about farmers – are all very emotional ads. While each ad shows the cars or trucks, the real emotional hit is this is America and you should buy an American car.

Hyundai is much different. They have had an image problem. They are relatively inexpensive, but have a very good product. They have had difficulty earning a spot in the car buyer’s consideration set unless the purchase is focused on price. By putting their cars in the Super Bowl, they have associated themselves with higher-end brands – Chrysler, Audi, Mercedes, Volkswagen – and the consumer has taken notice. It has helped Hyundai’s image and sales tremendously.


A Minute with… is provided by the News Bureau | Public Affairs as a venue for Illinois faculty experts to comment on current topics in the news. Faculty experts on a wide range of socially important topics are available to news media through the News Bureau, (217) 333-1085.


An index of previous A Minute with… features is here.