Nielsen/RAB: Super Bowl ad recall was low


RAB / Radio Advertising BureauDespite the usual hype around television ads that ran during this year’s Big Game, many viewers said they didn’t watch them – and even when they did, consumer recall of brands advertising during the game was uniformly low, according to a research study conducted by Nielsen Entertainment for the RAB.  Although the game brings out the ad industry’s best commercials, the results of the study show the limitations of television ads in selling products and highlight the fact that sight, sound and motion can distract from advertisers’ basic messages — in contrast to radio, where the audio message is more direct and personal and is not obscured by video or picture.

For example, of half the ads tested, recall of the types of products being advertised was below 10% among viewers of the game.  More importantly, when asked to name the brand of the product being advertised on an unaided basis, most viewers could not link the brand to the ad, even for the ads that had higher recall themselves.  As with recall of the product category, for most ads, brand recall was in the single digits.

The ads not only generated low brand recall, but also had little impact on viewers’ perceptions of the brands.  Additionally, only 15% of game viewers said they later looked for the ads or related content online; only 9% posted, tweeted, or shared links about the ads; and as few as 7% claimed that they actually looked for more information online about the advertised products or brands.

Companies paid an average of $4 million for a 30-second spot during this year’s Big Game, played Sunday, February 3, 2013 between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.  Radio works hard to register a marketer’s message at a fraction of the cost.

The survey consisted of online interviews conducted on 2/6 with 750 respondents aged 18-54 who said they had watched the game and saw any of the 10 ads in question. Respondents who said they had seen each of the ads in question while they were watching the Big Game were asked to answer the following unaided questions:

“What type of product or service was being advertised in the TV ad…?”

“What was the actual brand name of the product advertised in the TV ad…?”

Highlights of the ads’ recall:

–The ads were described as “The TV ad where…”

–An animated black goldfish swam around singing “No Diggity”

–Paul Harvey narrated a tribute to the American Farmer

–Tracy Morgan from 30 Rock talks in front of a giant flag

–People were all having a hard time trying to pronounce the month of FebuANY

A woman is saved by a lifeguard who punches a shark, then leaves him for an astronaut

–A man leaving the house realizes his sleeping girlfriend is wearing his favorite t-shirt

–A wife wins big on a scratch-off card in a mini mart while her husband chokes on a hot dog

–A young son asks his father where babies come from

–The celebrities Paul Rudd and Seth Rogan are called in to audition for the same ad

–A man walking down the street catches on fire, grows elephant feet and turns a tanker truck into rubber duckies


RBR-TVBR observation: In our opinion, the recall was low because of two reasons: 1) Most viewers were watching the game at a party or loud restaurant/bar and were not able to hear or concentrate on the higher level creative nuances/double entendres, etc. that most of these ads were crafted with. Did everyone instinctively “quiet down” when the ads came on? No, they were talking, arguing, laughing, etc. 2) Because these ads have been pigeon-holed to be the best of the best from the agencies for their clients (they often are), the focus is more on creative excellence than getting a message or branding across (experiential vs. utilitarian). It blew the clients away in the conference room, but much of it went right over the heads of the partying, drinking viewing audience. That’s a lot of money to spend for awards and accolades.


  1. Garbage in – garbage out. 750 people for a game watched by over 30 million? Only 9% of the survey respondents tweeted and this was the highest tweeted big game? You really can’t take anything away from this survey other than some surveys just aren’t well done.

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