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Franchisors Buy over Half of Super Bowl Ads

McDonald's Pay with Lovin' Ad

McDonald's "Pay with Lovin'" Super Bowl commercial. YouTube

GLENDALE, Ariz.—Super Bowl XLIX may have been a game for the ages, but the 2015 Advertising Super Bowl was a ho-hum affair. Companies engaged in franchising continued to dominate the advertising buys for the most viewed television program of the year, purchasing 54.2% of paid spots, as compared to 45.8% of paid ads by all non-franchisor advertisers combined. If the pregame storyline for the football game was the "DeflateGate" controversy, the Advertising Super Bowl for 2015 can best be described as "InflateGate" as the purported cost of a 30-second ad soared to an astronomical $4.5 million.

Franchisors Win the 2015 Advertising Super Bowl

Marking the 26th time in the past 27 years that franchisors dominated ad spending at the Super Bowl, there were a calculated 108 paid 30-second segments shown during the big game. Franchisors purchased 58.5 30-second spots (some ads ran just 15 seconds); non-franchisors in all categories purchased 49.5 spots. As in 2014, the difference maker was that several franchisors, including BMW, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Chrysler, Dodge, Kia, McDonalds, Mercedes, Nationwide Insurance, Nissan, Toyota and GM all purchased longer spots of between one to three minutes, and the cumulative total of advertising time, rather than number of ads, made the difference in the score. By contrast, only seven non-franchisors aired extended spots, including Microsoft, T-Mobile, Esurance, plus three motion pictures and two video games.

Super Bowl Ad Costs and Spending Inflating Fast

Franchisors spent an estimated $263 million on Super Bowl ads, $40 million more than the $223 million estimated spend by non-franchisors. NBC reportedly charged a record average price of $4.5 million per 30-second spot ($150,000 per second). The estimated total ad spend of $486 million, up from $400 million last year, was helped by ad costs that increased by 12.5% over 2014, and are up by 50% over the last three years--thus the 'InflateGate' tag for the 2015 survey. The higher cost didn't seem to impact advertiser demand as NBC reported it sold out the available national network spots. (Each local network affiliate franchise sold about 30 local spots).

These numbers are even more dramatic when 23 NBC network promotional spots and seven NFL spots are added to the mix. Both NBC and the NFL have franchised affiliates, and if these 30 ads are factored in the totals, franchisors placed 64% (88 spots) of some 138 total ads that aired during the four-hour game broadcast. (These totals do not include local ads run in San Diego County, and results may vary in other local communities.)

Infographic: Super Bowl Ad Prices Doubled Since 2003 | Statista

According to American Association of Franchisees and Dealers (AAFD) chairman Robert Purvin, who launched the organization's Advertising Super Bowl survey 27 years ago, "Super Bowl advertising continues to demonstrate the power of franchising. How else can small business owners afford to share their messages with more than 100 million households at one time?"

Yet for a single $4.5 million spot, the advertising cost for a ubiquitous franchise such as Subway (who aired just one spot this year) breaks down to just $180 per store when divided among the approximate 25,000 US restaurants in the chain. "The collective marketing power among franchised businesses is formidable," adds Purvin.

Comparing Industries – Automakers and Beverages Dominate Spending

Among companies that market through franchising, companies that manufacture products distributed through independent dealer networks (called "product franchisors" in the trade) continued to dominate ad buys. A robust 51.5, up from 42 in 2014, ads were placed by companies that sell cars (15 minutes), beverages (6 minutes), and insurance or other services through independent networks.

Business format franchisors – those businesses that consumers traditionally associate with franchising – accounted for just six commercials, including spots from McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Subway, plus several regional entries (on the West Coast where the survey was conducted) from Jack in the Box and Carl's Junior, among several others. The business format segment was even more active in the pre- and post-game broadcasts.

The Biggest Spenders – Budweiser and Chevy Trucks

Budweiser and Chevrolet led all advertisers with 3.5 minutes of air time each (the equivalent of about seven 30-second spots). For Budweiser, this was about half of its 2014 spending, and down for the third year in a row. Jeep, Microsoft, and Toyota each bought two minutes of time, and 26 advertisers ran at least one full minute of airtime. For the first time in several years, Ford skipped the event. In the soft drink category, both Coke and Pepsi were both active with multiple spots. Pepsi sponsored the halftime show, ran a spot for a Mountain Dew product, and also ran two spots for its non-franchised Doritos brand.

Technology related ads led the non-franchised segment with 9 airtime minutes, up dramatically from 2014. Movie and video games combined for a close second place with 15.5 spots, up from just five ads last year. Manufacturers, including food producers, ran 9.5 ads. Retailers disappeared, after accounting for five ads in 2014, and nine spots as recently as 2008. For online businesses, Amazon was a no-show, but online businesses were well represented by GoDaddy.com, Esurance.com, Squarepace.com (new last year), and newcomers Microsoft and Wix.com. Also in technology, all the big four mobile networks invested in the game: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.

During the game more than 65 companies bought advertising. There was just one public service announcement (Healthinsurance.gov) but several paid spots focused on public service concerns, including heartfelt messages from Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Reebok, McDonalds and Dodge.

This year's crop of ads was generally considered tame in comparison to recent years – with some notable winners (and no obvious losers). Two of the most memorable ads (both franchise related) were touching and inspirational rather than humorous: Dodge (Chrysler) and Coca-Cola tributes to American culture and grit. Microsoft joined Coke in tributes to human compassion. Budweiser probably took first prize with another classic ad featuring the famous Clydesdales saving their 'adopted' puppy from a certain death.

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Staff reporter for Blue MauMau