Super Bowl XLI will be played in south Florida this Sunday. Millions of Americans will watch the game on television — more than 90 million people tuned in last year. But not all of them will be interested in football. The television commercials have become as much an event as the game itself. Every year at Super Bowl parties, non-fans crowd around to watch the ads during commercial breaks. People even rate their favorites.

This is an advertiser’s dream: consumers willingly exposing themselves to advertisements, eager to see them and to talk about them. No wonder companies are willing to spend a fortune for a thirty-second slot — they couldn’t ask for a better opportunity. How much are they willing to spend to reach an enormous receptive audience?

  • In 1967 a 30-second ad cost an average of $40,000.
  • In 1987 the average cost was $600,000.
  • In 2007 the average cost is $2,600,000.

One of the best ways to gain control over your spending is to reduce your exposure to advertising. Advertising is not meant to help you make informed decisions. It’s meant to persuade you to purchase things.

It’s shocking that so many people willingly expose themselves to ads, not just during the Super Bowl, but in other areas of their life too (AGLOCO comes to mind). Perhaps they believe advertising doesn’t affect them. They’re wrong. Advertising works. It doesn’t always affect us on a conscious level — it operates in our subconscious where we’re unaware of its effects.

There is some debate about whether Super Bowl ads are “worth it” for the advertisers. There’s no debate that the ads are effective — it’s the degree to which they’re effective that’s in question. (Is an ad $2.6 million effective, or is it only $1.8 million effective?) Two years ago, ESPN ran an interesting piece about the efficacy of Super Bowl ads.

Proponents of Super Bowl advertising cite the unprecedented media coverage that surrounds companies that take out Super Bowl ads — in what other environment do people cover the ad before the ad? They call attention to the fact that in the era of digital video recording systems, many commercials aren’t watched as much as they used to be, except during the Super Bowl, of course. Then, there’s the after effect. Approximately 35 percent of people expect to talk about the Super Bowl ads at the water cooler on Monday, according to research firm Eisner Communications.

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In 1999, the online job posting company Monster.com debuted an advertisement entitled “When I Grow Up,” a spot in which kids dream of mediocre business careers such as filing all day and “clawing” up to middle management. Not many people liked the commercial at the time, but it was — above all — the relevant advertising that seemed to strike a chord with potential consumers.

In a 24-hour period following the ad’s run, Web site hits soared from 83,000 to 2.2 million and the number of resumes posted on the site went up from a typical 1,500 a day to 8,500 resumes on the Monday following the game. The spot won an Effie Award, bestowed on the company by the New York American Marketing Association for effective advertising.

What’s at issue isn’t if the ads are effective — researchers have found that first-time Super Bowl advertisers experience a modest stock price bump, for example — but how much effect they have. So I implore you: if you’re going to watch the Super Bowl, watch it because you want to see the game. Don’t watch it because you want to see the ads. At the very least, be mindful of how doing so may affect your buying habits.

Go Seahawks! (Yes, I’m still bitter about least year. I have no interest in Sunday’s game.)

For more about the effects of marketing and advertising, read Paul’s recent review of The Consumer Trap and my older review of Why We Buy.

This article is about Odds and Ends, Psychology