Super Bowl XLVIII: Can Celebrities Break Through the Ad Clutter?
Business + Economy

Super Bowl XLVIII: Can Celebrities Break Through the Ad Clutter?

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Celebrity endorsements are as common during Super Bowl telecasts as pizza and chicken wings, but this year some advertisers are betting their brands will need star power more than ever to justify the $4 million they are paying on average for 30 seconds of time during the big game.

This year's contest will feature actress Scarlett Johansson seductively hawking SodaStream, a machine for making soda at home, and the "Terminator" Arnold Schwarzenegger strangely attired in a blonde wig to extol the virtues of Bud Light beer.

Related:  Super Bowl Party XLVIII - Josh vs. Martha Stewart 

Bob Dylan, who outraged fans some 10 years ago by appearing in a Victoria's Secret commercial, will star in a spot for Fiat's Chrysler, according to Billboard. Representatives for Dylan and Chrysler did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The more than 100 million people who will tune in Sunday, when the Seattle Seahawks take on the Denver Broncos, may make the investment pay off, Madison Avenue executives say, for an annual event that has become an advertising showcase.

And some say a celebrity may help get a commercial noticed in a sea of ads. The game, shown on 21st Century Fox's Fox broadcast network, will likely include between 48 and 49 minutes of commercials, making it the second-most cluttered Super Bowl after last year, says Jon Swallen, chief research officer of ad research firm Kantar Media.

Related:  Facebook vs. Twitter - The Other Big Battle at the Super Bowl

In 2013, CBS replayed some ads after the stadium lights went out, for nearly 52 minutes of ads.

To stand out on an evening when at least seven car brands have ads, luxury carmaker Jaguar, a first-time Super Bowl advertiser, hired British actors Ben Kingsley, Tom Hiddleston and Mark Strong to play villains in a slickly produced minute-long spot directed by Oscar winner Tom Hooper and featuring a helicopter and a jet along with the brand's new F-Type Coupe. Jaguar is a unit of India's Tata Motors.

"Companies are investing an enormous amount in celebrities and special effects as they try to break through the clutter," said Tim Calkins, marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. "It creates more excitement and buzz."

Celebrities are featured on 11 of 24, or 46 percent of ads that had been released as of Wednesday, according to Communicus, a firm that provides research on the effectiveness of commercials. Last year, celebrities appeared in 38 percent of commercials that aired during the game.

Related:  Super Bowl - Best Excuse Yet to Buy a New TV

Hiring a celebrity can add millions to the cost of the ad, as does mounting a campaign ahead of the game that includes trailers and online promotions to get people talking about a spot beforehand. Companies can easily spend more than $10 million for a Super Bowl campaign, said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research for Horizon Media, a marketing and advertising firm. "Using celebrities is a high risk, high reward proposition," Kantar Media's Swallen said. 

One danger is that marketers often make the mistake of picking a celebrity for their ad who has no association with the brand, said Communicus Chief Executive Jeri Smith. Comedian Tracy Morgan was a poor choice last year to pitch the MiO Fit water enhancer, she said. Communicus found that 82 percent of people in its survey of Super Bowl viewers recognized Morgan, but only 18 percent recalled the product he was promoting.

"That's what we call a video vampire," Smith said. "The celebrity stole all the attention from the brand."

Celebrities have the ability to give a brand attention beyond the 30 seconds during the big game, said Jim Joseph, president of the North America division for Cohn & Wolfe. Stars can engage fans through social media campaigns and contests that run before, during and after the event.

Related:  Super Disappointing Economics of the Super Bowl

"It makes a return on investment much more likely," Joseph said.

Other celebrity appearances this year include James Franco for Ford Motor Co, Laurence Fishburne for Kia, a unit of Korea's Hyundai Motor Co, and Stephen Colbert for Wonderful Pistachios. John Stamos and fellow "Full House" cast members will pitch Danone's Dannon Oikos brand Greek yogurt, and soccer star David Beckham will return for Swedish clothing retailer H&M.

Bud Light, owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, has already raised eyebrows with its puzzling teasers featuring Schwarzenegger wearing a blonde wig and retro athletic suit and headband while preparing to play ping pong. The mystery may work, or fall flat, said Pete Favat, chief creative officer for Deutsch LA, who said the concept was "weird."

"That I honestly don't get," Favat said. "It has got a lot of people's attention. It doesn't feel right, but sometimes you make a call."