Undertone and the Super Bowl: A Thought Exercise

| Uncategorized

The most-watched television event in US history is right around the corner, and advertisers are lining up to pay up to $4MM for 30-second ad spots. It’s the Super Bowl, of course, and the annual hype around not just the game itself but the accompanying ads has led brands to spend unprecedented sums on TV spots. That’s something that’s unlikely to change—but with so much money being thrown around, it’s an interesting thought exercise to consider how else it could be spent, and with what results.

What if you took the $4MM budget for a Super Bowl TV spot and instead spent it on an Undertone campaign?

According to Nielsen, 80-90MM viewers are watching the Super Bowl at any given moment, so we’ll assume that 80-90MM people are likely to see any given 30-second spot.* Now let’s take the $4MM budget for that one spot and instead apply it to a video campaign across Undertone. We can expect 80MM uniques—comparable to a typical Super Bowl spot – but 295MM impressions, delivering an average frequency rate 3.7x higher. Frequency is widely viewed as a key driver of brand impact metrics, and a buy on Undertone would provide the audience size of the Super Bowl without sacrificing frequency.  

So Undertone can deliver the audience size of the Super Bowl; now let’s look at the demographics of that audience and the cost-effectiveness of reaching that audience. Advertisers covet specific audience demographics, and while there are many benefits to Super Bowl TV advertising, cost-effective demographic targeting is not one of them. Let’s assume that an advertiser is looking to target the M18-49 demographic. For the same spend, an advertiser could get a similar number of unique impressions in this target demographic from a Super Bowl spot or an Undertone campaign (around 28MM uniques). However, not only would frequency be 4x greater on Undertone, but CPMs would be much, much lower: approximately $34 CPM on Undertone vs. $120 CPM for the Super Bowl spot.

Of course, these arguments rely on several assumptions, and certainly none of these numbers should be taken as gospel truth; this is intended solely as a thought experiment. (The hypothetical Undertone campaign is also based on a 30-day flight, as opposed to the Super Bowl’s singular :30 hit.) But it’s possible that an Undertone campaign could be more cost-effective and deliver better brand metrics than a Super Bowl spot. Does this mean advertisers should drop their Super Bowl plans and transfer all their budgets to Undertone or other digital media companies? No, of course not; the Super Bowl is a unique event and Super Bowl ads carry a cachet that is hard to achieve anywhere else. But crunching the numbers leads to some surprising conclusions about how far Super Bowl spend could go using digital media.

*Please note, all TV ratings/delivery data come from Nielsen (based on the 2011 Super Bowl) and all Undertone numbers are based on comScore.

Shawn is responsible for conceptualizing and implementing first party research to support Undertone’s display, high impact and video advertising products in response to market needs. Additionally, he oversees advertising effectiveness research for top clients as well as pre-planning consumer insights. Shawn holds a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences from Albany Medical College and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from The State University of New York at Albany.


  • ADVERTISING IMPERILED “Creative Synchronized Digital Branding” Is the Answer

    Read more
  • Content meets distribution at scale

    Read more
  • What does Instagram’s ‘like ban’ mean for influencers?

    Read more

Leave a Comment