Originally published on Adweek.
As we count down the final hours to Super Bowl 56, there’s only one question left to answer—what the question is, though, depends on whether you are a viewer or a marketer. For fans, of course, the question is whether the LA Rams or Cincinnati Bengals will dominate the gridiron. But for marketers, it’s not about the battle for the Lombardi Trophy—it’s about the battle for eyeballs.
With a $7 million sticker price for a 30-second spot during this year’s game, marketers are understandably laser-focused on how many people are going to tune in during Super Bowl 56. However, ratings only tell part of the story. Savvy marketers should be asking a more complex and revealing question about their Super Bowl investments: How much attention was being paid to my ad?
It’s been well documented that the Super Bowl is the one event where the advertising is as important as the show itself—and the post-game debate about which ad was the best gets equal time with Monday morning quarterbacking. But amidst the discussion around which ad made us laugh or cry, which spot inspired the most tweets or had the most YouTube views, the important questions are being overlooked.
How many viewers were actively watching the ads? Were the viewers mentally available for the ads? With research showing a direct correlation between consumer attention and both brand and performance metrics, these are the $7 million questions.
Historically, of course, advertisers have used Nielsen ratings and other viewership numbers as a proxy for consumer attention. But the transformation of content consumption—the multitude of ways we can watch the Super Bowl on linear TV, streaming on a variety of devices or even multiple devices simultaneously—make the legacy viewership analysis directional at best at gleaning insight on consumer attention during the Big Game.
Now, thanks to new technology, we can get a much more precise read on viewer attention during the actual broadcast.
The (attention) numbers don’t lie
Working with attention data provided by TVision, a technology company that can monitor eyes-on-screen attention during real-world viewing situations, OMD looked at metrics from the past three Super Bowls.
The takeaway: Attention during the commercials is consistently either equal to or higher than it is during the game—and that remains the case whether 100 million people tune in, as they did in 2020, or the audience is 91 million, as was the case in 2021.For example, from 2019-2021, people in the 18-34 demo found Super Bowl ads to be more engaging than the game itself. Their TVision Attention Index, which measures the proportion of time viewers spend with their eyes on the screen, was 114.0 for the ads, but only 112.1 for the game itself.
It is also worth noting that while both men and women pay similar amounts of attention to the Super Bowl ads, women pay less attention to the game than men. This suggests that the Super Bowl is a unique event in which many viewers tune in for the ads more than the competition itself.
Beyond providing statistical support for an axion on which billions are spent each year, is there a deeper implication? What is the relationship between high attention programming and ad attention? What would we find if we were to look at the relationship between programming and commercial content in another high attention event that doesn’t carry the same level of hype around brand messaging? For example, the Puppy Bowl, which in 2021 had many millions of viewers fewer than the Super Bowl, could tell a different story if measured against the exact same attention metrics.
Attention opens new opportunities for smart marketers to ground their investments in accurate metrics that strongly correlate to both brand and performance metrics—from planning to activation and measurement. And it’s also why media owners should have a greater sense of urgency about developing and sharing attention-based metrics to inform better media buying decisions.
For marketers, attention metric numbers are certainly more revealing than pure viewership. Having both allows brands to make investment decisions that start with a very simple question: What’s the priority—more people or more attention?