Traditional vs. Digital: The Super Bowl Ad Grey Space

Engagement Marketing


Who wants to, or better yet who can afford to, spend $4.5 million on any one line item in their marketing budget? But that is the price of a 30 second TV commercial spot during this year’s Super Bowl. It could be argued that it’s less of a football game and more of a game for marketers; it’s the one television event of the year where people tune in and turn up the volume during commercial breaks. Yet, with the advent of digital media and the shift toward hyper personalized marketing, does it still make sense to mass market? The dividing line has been drawn—where do you stand?

Marketo recently co-hosted a Twitter Chat with our friends at Advertising Week to find out where marketers stand on the value of today’s (incredibly expensive) Super Bowl commercials. Going in, I expected to find marketers on both sides making strong statements and assertions and didn’t think I’d find much grey space between the two camps.

Two camps: Traditional vs. Digital

I expected the more traditional marketing camp to argue that building brand awareness is invaluable and the 112 million impressions that each commercial garners on average during the live airing is worth every penny. In fact, it’s an absolute steal!

An example of a pro-traditional perspective from our Advertising Week & Marketo Twitter chat:


And then to counter that argument, I thought I would hear the modern digital marketer argue that you can easily garner the same amount of impressions with a comprehensive cross-channel social campaign that would be able to track impressions to actual purchase intent, thereby enabling marketers to prove solid campaign ROI. With that same amount of money, you could buy digital ads for an entire year, 300,000 pepperoni pizzas from Papa John’s, 1,607,142 extra large cups of coffee from Dunkin Donuts, or just run the campaign and have money leftover.

An example of a pro-digital perspective from our Advertising Week & Marketo Twitter chat::


More common ground than expected

So what about that whole raging debate between the traditional Madison Avenue Ad Mad Men and the modern digital-savvy marketer who is rapidly changing the way we market via new technology and targeting strategies? Given the sharp dividing lines, I was surprised by how comfortable people were in the grey space between the two camps during the Twitter chat. No one picked a firm stance.

What happened to the battle royale I expected? I observed that many marketer hearts pine for marketing days of yore, when we’d tune in to watch live commercials, rather than see them leaked in advance of the event. As one tweet said, pre-releasing your commercial is the equivalent of unwrapping your presents before Christmas. But now, because we know we can target the right people, spend less, and convert more sales—we recognize that without incorporating digital campaigns, a Super Bowl commercial is an outdated and inefficient spend.

Prerelease woes

A new way to engage buyers

We’re moving into an era where customers expect to receive personalized ads based on products that they want (or should want). So if I don’t like junk food and never plan to buy it, then the Doritos Super Bowl ad buy is lost on me.

We recently commissioned a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit that interviewed marketing visionaries on the future of marketing and a key theme that stood out in the next era of marketing is hyper personalization—for both the brand and the customer experience.

An example of a the importance of a more personalized experience and the conflict a marketer feels (same marketer as the pro-traditional argument):

Engagement and personalization is key

If mass marketing is dying, then why are marketers still comfortable spending $4.5M on a 30 second TV commercial for the Super Bowl? Why reminisce when you can push the envelope? I’d love to hear what you think. Share your stance in the comments below.