Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Better Super Bowl Makes for Better Ads

• February 03, 2012 • 9:15 AM

A lot of people say they watch the Super Bowl mostly for the ads. But it turns out a good game surrounding those ads makes them seem better.

A curious thing sometimes happens when we watch a violent movie, or a thrilling TV show, or when we listen to, say, Al Green. Afterward, we take that aggression or excitement that we’ve just built up and apply it to whatever’s at hand. Academics have a name for this phenomenon: excitation transfer theory.

You might want to remember this as you’re watching some entertainment ripe for serious suspense this Sunday — the Super Bowl.

“As you’re watching a suspenseful game, there’s a certain level of arousal that develops,” said Colleen Bee, an assistant professor of marketing at Oregon State University. This can, by the way, take on both psychological and physiological forms. “As this excitation is building throughout an exciting game, it transfers to things in the immediate environment.”

Like, for instance, beer ads.

Bee and colleague Robert Madrigal have conducted a new study of excitation transfer theory in the sports marketing realm, and their findings illuminate how many of us will be affected by the Big Game this weekend — and what that should mean for companies spending as much as $3.5 million for a 30-second Super Bowl commercial spot.

The authors, whose research will appear in a forthcoming Journal of Advertising, found that viewers feel more positively about ads (and the brands and products contained in them) when they air in the immediate aftermath of a really great game. This means that if the Giants and Patriots go down to the wire on Sunday, the real winner may be the car ad that comes right afterward.

That high many of us experience from watching a nail-biter — never a given for Super Bowls — follows you straight into the commercial break. And the trick really works if the ad itself is suspenseful, too.

[youtube]VhkDdayA4iA[/youtube]

[youtube]6ntDYjS0Y3w[/youtube]

Bee and Madrigal studied this by condensing their own mini college basketball games from real footage, and interspersing them with actual ads from TV. The games, collapsed into two four-minute halves, were shown to 112 undergraduates at Oregon State (you can’t, it turns out, get undergraduates to sit for a full two-hour basketball game for science, even if it is for credit). The researchers showed four different types of games: a suspenseful loss and a suspenseful win for the viewer, and a less suspenseful alternative pair. “A complete blowout,” Bee clarified.

At “halftime” and at the end of each game, subjects were also shown commercials, two of which were themselves designed with suspenseful plotlines, and two that weren’t. In the suspenseful Nike ad — dramatically dubbed “Good vs. Evil” — some wholesome soccer players take on a team of demons, music soars, and things get pretty exciting. In another ad, for Virgin Atlantic, it is in doubt until the end of the spot if a man quietly sitting on a city bench will be hit from above by a falling object. (Bee and Madrigal make no comment on whether these are effective ads — just exciting, suspenseful ones. Other academics, of course, are willing to stick their necks out on an ad’s effectiveness.)

The other ads were for the cold medicine Sudafed and a bladder control product.

[class name=”dont_print_this”]

Idea Lobby

THE IDEA LOBBY
Miller-McCune's Washington correspondent Emily Badger follows the ideas informing, explaining and influencing government, from the local think tank circuit to academic research that shapes D.C. policy from afar.

[/class]

“As you can image, they were very informative,” Bee said. “The Sudafed one had something about explaining the benefits of Sudafed for cold and allergies, and then there was someone with a red nose. It was really not that exciting. It wasn’t one of the cold medicine ads that had Peyton Manning in it or Drew Brees.”

After pairing all of the game scenarios against all of the ads (each subject watched only one mini-game), the viewers were then asked in an online survey how they felt about the advertising. The ads — particularly the suspenseful ones — that were shown at the conclusion of the close games were viewed more favorably than both the ads shown at the end of the blowouts, and those shown in the middle of any type of game.

One other finding here was particularly surprising.

“We actually expected, based on theory, that the outcome, whether your team won or lost, might affect advertising,” Bee said. “In fact, we found that it didn’t.”

This is good news for advertisers who don’t have to worry about half of their potential customers forever associating Sudafed with that awful last-minute loss to the New York Giants (or the Pats). For advertising, a good game matters. Who wins doesn’t.

During the Super Bowl, there is typically a premium placed on the ads aired near the beginning of the game, because advertisers assume many of us won’t stick out the whole thing. But this research suggests that, in the event of a close contest, the spot with the real premium is the one that airs right after the game ends.

This finding presents more of a quandary to advertisers than a new sure-fire rulebook for winning the advertising game. So here’s a new question for Monday-morning quarterbacks: Should you go for the first-quarter ad — when you’re likely to have the most viewers tuning in — or gamble on the end of the fourth quarter and hope a close game hands you scads of excited viewers primed to transfer all that energy to your brand?

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

More From Emily Badger

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 19 • 4:00 PM

How a Drug Policy Reform Organization Thinks of the Children

This valuable, newly updated resource for parents is based in the real world.


December 19 • 2:00 PM

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

It wasn’t just a toy.


December 19 • 12:00 PM

Social Scientists Can Do More to Eradicate Racial Oppression

Using our knowledge of social systems, all social scientists—black or white, race scholar or not—have an opportunity to challenge white privilege.


December 19 • 10:17 AM

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting

By not taking university press officers and research press releases seriously, scientists are often complicit in the media falsehoods they so often deride.


December 19 • 10:00 AM

Pentecostalism in West Africa: A Boon or Barrier to Disease?

How has Ghana stayed Ebola-free despite being at high risk for infection? A look at their American-style Pentecostalism, a religion that threatens to do more harm than good.


December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



December 16 • 4:00 PM

How Fear of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.


Follow us


Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.