Q&A: The science behind Super Bowl commercials

Fowler College of Business marketing professor Paula Peter breaks down the “Taylor Swift Effect” on Super Bowl LVIII and her influence on advertising strategies during the Big Game.

Friday, February 9, 2024
SDSU marketing professor Paula Peter breaks down the “Taylor Swift Effect” on Super Bowl LVIII. (Adobe Stock Image)
SDSU marketing professor Paula Peter breaks down the “Taylor Swift Effect” on Super Bowl LVIII. (Adobe Stock Image)

History’s list of most watched television programs is dominated by the Super Bowl, and this year’s matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs in Las Vegas could see an extreme boost because of an off-the-field storyline you definitely haven’t heard about.

We spoke to Fowler College of Business marketing professor Paula Peter about the “Taylor Swift Effect” on Super Bowl LVIII, how brands might benefit from the extra eyes and whether or not the extra hype is leading brands to get more creative with their commercials ahead of the Big Game.

Has Taylor Swift’s and Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce’s “Love Story” had a noticeable impact on viewership and ad spending during the regular season and playoffs, and do you expect an equal or greater impact on Super Bowl LVIII?

Yes, there is no doubt we are going to have more viewership than last year. It is also important to think about the price of tickets, which is 30-35% more than last year - It’s becoming, truly, a dream to afford this in-person, luxury experience and that draws attention. There is definitely going to be a large viewership and it's probably going to be the largest of any televised content in the United States. The so-called “Taylor Swift Effect” on this year’s game is absolutely true, as you have an entirely different part of the population tuning into the Super Bowl, not for the sport, the halftime show or the commercial spots, but to catch a glimpse of Taylor Swift watching her boyfriend play in football’s greatest game. 

We’ve seen some brands like State Farm and Uber Eats post “teasers” of their Super Bowl ads on social media. Is this a new trend? In the past we’ve seen brands post their entire commercials online ahead of the game. Can you explain the pros and cons of both strategies?

The idea of “teasing” a commercial is a great way to increase expectations ahead of watching the actual commercial, and it’s a great way to get the attention of the viewer. We should remember that this is probably one of the few, or quite possibly the only televised event where people tune in to watch the commercials. Usually, we have commercials running as part of the business scheme, but there is a part of our consumer population that tunes into the Super Bowl just to watch the commercials and have a laugh with friends and family. Now, how you are going to stand out, though, as a marketer and an advertiser, is by being creative. In the past, creativity was judged in terms of the content. Now, it seems to be more on the way it’s delivered. So, there are companies that go with a teaser, and then they’re going to air the commercial during the Super Bowl. The hope is that the conversation then continues over social media. There are companies that also see frequency of exposure as a goal, where the more you are exposed to the commercial, the more familiar the brand/product/story becomes, helping the recall of the brand. That is basic consumer psychology.  It’s going to be interesting to see how that evolves and what we’re going to see on Sunday.

There have been some complaints from football fans about Swift’s spotlight in the football world since she started publicly dating Kelce. Do you expect brands to play off of the Swift-Kelce romance in their commercials and do you think there’s potential for negative consumer reaction?

In the end it’s about brand identity. Taylor Swift is really vocal about her beliefs. She takes stands and isn’t afraid to do so, and that is very apparent. This is where we see the polarizing effect come into play. Similarly, there are brands that do the same thing and it’s a question of, does the brand share the same value system? If they portray the same values, then they will try to capitalize on this storyline playing out in the public. If they don’t have any link and synergy with this celebrity, then they probably won’t capitalize on the story or the celebrity.

Do you remember any off-the-field storylines from past Super Bowls ever attracting so much negative or polarizing attention?

Think about Dove. Dove is all about self-esteem, and we’re going to see a commercial this Sunday about self-esteem in little girls. When Dove first aired their commercial in 2006 about self-esteem in girls, we saw very interesting reactions from viewers. Some viewers rolled their eyes and said, “Come on, this is not football. Football and the Super Bowl are about having fun, beer, chips and parties.” Prior to this, we were accustomed to commercials that focused on happy and humorous things, which works great from a marketing perspective and is what consumers had come to expect. Then, Dove did an about-face. During the commercial spot, people stopped for a second and acknowledged the importance of the topic. At the same time, people, especially women, said, “This is great. We need to talk about this.” Women got into the conversation because it’s about self-esteem and body positivity. This year’s commercial shows clips of young girls playing sports and falling or coming up short, and then the commercial says, “The knocks don’t stop girls playing sports, low body confidence does. 45% of girls quit sports by age 14. Together we can keep them in the game…” Dove has been focused on self-esteem for the past 20 years, so we’re not really surprised anymore, but when they aired that initial Super Bowl commercial, it was the first time there was a huge conversation about it. Going back to Taylor Swift, I would say it’s more organic because it’s about a love story happening in front of the world, and it just so happens that it’s arguably one of the most famous singers in the world with one of the best football players in the world. 

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