20 years of Super Bowl advertising research by UW-Eau Claire professors, students continues to impact advertising community

Story by Nick Gourdoux

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Posted at 12:00 am 2/12/10

Sunday’s Super Bowl became the most watched televised event when more than 106 million people tuned in to see the Saints beat the Colts in Miami, according to the Nielsen ratings. The game isn’t the only thing people tuned in for, either. The advertisements receive enough attention to warrant multiple headlines on many major news Web sites. A few of those people paying close attention to the advertisements were members of a UW-Eau Claire research team studying the likeability of Super Bowl ads.

There is no simple way to determine what aspects of a commercial appeal to the audience the most. That is why Dr. Chuck Tomkovick, Dr. Rama Yelkur and their student aids – currently sophomores Ashley Hofer, Clay Theiler and senior Dan Rozumalski – have been researching the topic for 20 years and have had their results published numerous times and have had a steep impact on the advertising community.

“In this particular study what (the students) did with us was watch and code, as a panel of observers, every single (Super Bowl) commercial aired from 2000 to 2009 and basically rate humor and other things on a 1 to 5 scale,” Yelkur said. “We watched and coded 450 or so commercials over a 10 years period.”

Those ratings describing the commercials – humor or presence of animals for example – are then compared to a general likeability rating published by USA Today the day after the Super Bowl. If commercials containing humor consistently receive higher likeability ratings than those based around fear, for example, then the assumption is made that humor is more likeable and therefore successful than fear.

The study that the researchers have done for the last decade is a replication of one done from 1990 to 1999.

“We thought it would be a nice follow up 10 years later,” Yelkur said. “We’ve planned on continuing research.

“We have 20 years of data now, but someday we hope to have 50 years of data.”

Yelkur added that two things that fell out of favor between decades were the length of commercials and the presence of celebrities.

“To know what to put in the ads and what your target market wants is difficult,” Rozumalski said. “To be able to get information like this is very useful.”

The group of researchers usually gets their results published in The New York Times – either online or in print – Rozumalski said, adding that previous research helped convince NBC to significantly increase their Super Bowl ad rates.

“Its better than being in a class doing a project,” Rozumalski said. “This actually effects the world.”