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Companies that have wasted the most on Super Bowl advertising

By Charles B. Stockdale, Michael B. Sauter and Ashley C. Allen, 24/7 Wall St.

A 30-second ad spot in this year’s Super Bowl costs an average of $3.5 million. That’s an 84 percent increase from 10 years ago and the highest amount advertisers have ever had to pay. While that is quite the price hike, it is in line with the growth in TV audience, which has just about doubled over the past decade. But despite spending this much to reach such a massive audience at once, the results are rarely impressive.

Between 2002 and 2011, companies spent $2.5 billion on Super Bowl advertising, based on 24/7 Wall St.’s estimate. The top 10 spenders were responsible for more than one-third of that. And one company, Budweiser maker Anheuser-Busch InBev, spent almost $250 million over the past 10 years on Super Bowl ads, or a whopping one-tenth of all Super Bowl ad spending.

24/7 Wall St. ranked total spending for all of the companies that advertised during the Super Bowl in the past decade. An analysis of the top spenders reflects how bad this investment can be. While some, such as Hyundai and Toyota, have improved market share over that time, most have not. Based on total ad spending, product failures, change in market share, share price and sales, we identified the eight brands that wasted the most on the Super Bowl, including mega brands such as Coke, Budweiser, GM and Ford.

Based on 24/7 Wall St.’s analysis of Super Bowl ad spending, the top spenders fall into four major categories: automotive, film, food, -- including snacks and fast food -- and beverages. Four of the top 10 Super Bowl advertisers are auto companies. Another four of the 10 are food and beverage manufacturers. Three movie studios are in the top 25.

Because Super Bowl ads are used by a small number of industries, many companies in those industries are forced to advertise just to keep up. Most of the top 10 spenders are perennial also-rans. Yum! Brands, owner of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, spent $67 million over the past 10 years. Meanwhile, McDonald’s, the indisputable market leader, spent less than half that amount and is not a top 10 spender. Similarly, E*Trade, well-known for the talking baby campaign, spent more than any other online brokerage firm, yet remains fourth in the industry.

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24/7 Wall St. tabulated all of the commercials from the past 10 Super Bowls, as archived by Adland, the “world’s largest archive of Super Bowl commercials.” Using that data, 24/7 calculated the number of commercials each company bought, as well as their length, including any available pregame, postgame and prime advertising commercials. To estimate the total amount each company spent on Super Bowl advertising in the past decade, we used the average costs of a 30-second commercial spot each year and the total number of minutes of advertising time recorded by Adland.

These are the eight brands that wasted the most on the Super Bowl.

1. Anheuser-Busch InBev

  • Total ad spending (2002-2011): $246.2 million
  • Super Bowls advertised in over last ten years: 10
  • Average ads per Super Bowl: 8.7
  • Change in share price (2002-current): N/a -- was purchased by InBev in 2008
  • Change in market share: 52 percent (2002) - 48.3 percent (2011)

Since 2002, Anheuser Busch, brewer of Budweiser beer, bought close to a quarter of a billion in advertising. This is one-tenth of all the money spent on Super Bowl commercials by all companies during that period. The American beverage company was purchased in 2008 by Belgian InBev, forming one massive beverages company. That same year, the company purchased 13 separate Super Bowl ads, worth nearly $40 million in total -- the second-most spent by any company on ads in one year. Budweiser has featured some of the most iconic animals ever shown during the big game, including football-playing Clydesdales, jealous lizards, and more recently, partying dogs. Bud Light and Budweiser used to be the first and second most popular beers in the U.S. Despite the massive ad campaigns, the company lost the number two spot to Coors Light in 2011.

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2. PepsiCo

  • Total ad spending (2002 - 2011): $209.7 million
  • Super Bowls advertised in over past 10 years: 10
  • Average ads per Super Bowl: 7.2
  • Change in share price (2002 - current): +32.4 percent
  • Change in market share: 31.4 percent (2002) - 29.3 percent (2010)

Although it is the second-largest soft drink company, PepsiCo is the number one soft drink company when it comes to Super Bowl advertising. Over the past decade, the company has spent over $200 million on advertising its products during the big game, airing an average of 7.2 ads per year. Of course, the company advertises much more than just Pepsi Cola. PepsiCo has run Super Bowl commercials advertising Gatorade, Sierra Mist, SoBe, Tostitos, Doritos and more. In 2010, PepsiCo spent over $358 million on television advertising compared to Coca-Cola’s $277 million. PepsiCo also aired 72 Super Bowl ads over the past 10 years compared to Coke’s 14. Despite all this, Coca-Cola remains the industry king of carbonated beverages, and Pepsi’s gallons sold dropped 32 percent between 2001 and 2010.

3. General Motors

  • Total ad spending (2002-2011): $135.2 million
  • Super Bowls advertised in over last ten years: 8
  • Average ads per Super Bowl: 5.5
  • Change in share price (2002-current): filed chapter 11 in 2009
  • Change in market share: ~29 percent (2002) - 19.6 percent (2011)

Four separate automakers were among the top 10 spenders on Super Bowl ads. None, however, spent anything close to what General Motors has over the past ten years. GM bought more than $135 million-worth in advertising space during the big game. And although GM did not advertise in 2009 or 2010 while it was going through bankruptcy and recovery, it still spent more than Ford, Toyota and Hyundai combined. In 2005, the company ran 13 separate commercials -- tied with Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch for the most in a single year. Last year, the carmaker ran five commercials, all of which were Chevy ads, including one produced in collaboration with DreamWorks for "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."

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4. Yum! Brands

  • Total ad spending (2002 – 2011): $67.8 million
  • Super Bowls advertised in over past 10 years: 9
  • Average ads per Super Bowl: 3
  • Change in share price (2002 – current): +366.0 percent
  • Change in market share: 37 percent (2000) – 28 percent (2011) (KFC)

Yum! Brands is one of the largest fast food companies in the world, operating restaurants including KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. When the company spends on Super Bowl advertising, it usually avoids its most popular brand, KFC. Only five of the company’s 27 Super Bowl commercials in the past decade have advertised The Colonel’s restaurant. Instead, Yum! focuses on its smaller brands, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, which had 12 and 10 ads over that time, respectively. Although much of it is owed to international expansion, Yum! Brands’ share price has increased 366 percent since 2002. KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut sales combined are still leagues behind McDonald’s.

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