Why AFL Grand Final ads could be as big as the Super Bowl

adam ferrierIn this guest post, Naked’s Adam Ferrier argues that the communications industry has a chance to turn AFL grand final ad breaks into an event similar to the Super Bowl

The two biggest annual sporting events in the world – as judged by TV audience size are the UEFA Champions League Final (European soccer) and The Super Bowl (USA Football). The advertising during the Super Bowl is becoming as famous as the Super Bowl itself. The EUFA Champions League Final has nothing of the sort.

The USA has always admired advertising and sales. Being in ‘sales’ in America is worn with pride, in Europe it’s seen as slightly ‘grubby’. Same with advertising. American’s have long revered advertising, and of course have recently created Mad Men, a long running TV series glorifying the golden years of advertising. Europe has always been more coy with their relationship with ads. Jon Steel in his book Truth, Lies and Advertising reasons that this is why American advertising is more in your face and direct. Whereas European advertising is more cerebral, indirect, and entertaining. ‘Entertain them first, before you try and sell’. In short European sentiment just does not glorify advertising (and its close cousin sales) in the same way the Americans do.

Australia appears to be more towards the American end of the spectrum. Australia too loves advertising, look at the success of The Gruen Transfer / Gruen Planet. We are a ‘no bullshit’, direct selling culture. Advertising isn’t that crass, or that intrusive. So we arguably have a mindset that could accept advertising being part of our biggest sporting event.

However, what sporting event? So far the two highest rating annual sporting events of all time in Australia are a) The 2005 Australian Open Final 4,045,000 (most watched Australian show ever) and b) the 2005 AFL Grand Final 3,386,000 people (sixth most watched show). However, due to the AFL’s similarity to the NFL (both are the national football game), and it’s increasing national appeal I’d chose the AFL Grand Final as the place to host the ads.

However, the AFL is going to have to get a much bigger audience to compare itself to the Super Bowl. We have 3.4 million viewers of the Grand Final in a population of 23 million, that’s only 15% of all Australians tuning in. The Super Bowl has 112 million viewers, withing a population of 315 million – that’s 36% of the country tuning in. And many are tuning in for the half time entertainment, and the advertising, not only for the game itself. However, it’s the AFL’s desire for more audience numbers that will drive us towards more Super Bowl style ‘entertainment’. All footy fans already watch the AFL Grand Final. However, if they improve the entertainment, and make a spectacle of the advertising it will drive more passive viewers of the game to watch. The game is what it is, so expect the entertainment to be magnified in future years, thus attracting more and more viewers.

Another barrier to adoption of Super Bowl style advertising during the AFL is the production costs of these epic commercials. However, the production budget is no longer a determinant of quality. In fact the favourite ad viewed at the Super Bowl a few years ago was a consumer generated effort for Dorritos that cost $20.00 to produce. People are expecting clever and funny, there are of course still massive production budgets put aside for some ads, but it’s proven they are no longer needed. Obviously the media cost will be expensive. The Super Bowl is charging $3.8 million per 30 second spot, however there has been strong arguments put forwards that even at this price there is a strong effectiveness story. Here’s a list of the most effective Super Bowl ads since 2005.

Finally, half the Superbowl ads this year involve a #hashtag to activate in Twitter. Several involve the consumer to a meaningful degree. Meaning the Super Bowl ad is now more than an ad – it’s an event, an opportunity for people to get involved. The return for the ad doesn’t have to come from the ad itself, they can be the launch of a consumer engagement program, or an initiative that spans for weeks, months, years. Such as this (pretty average one) from the 2013 list of commercials.

Why will it happen? Why will the AFL become Australia’s Super Bowl of advertising? Because it’s in everyone’s interest.

  • The AFL will love it as obviously it brings more viewers to the game.
  • The network will love it as it brings more revenue.
  • The viewers will get genuinely better more entertaining advertising
  • The advertising community will have a place to show off its most creative talents.
  • The advertisers will build bigger brands and get more sales.

When something is in everyone’s interests then it has a way of just happening.

Oh, and one more thing. It’s already starting to happen. So far we only have one genuine participant – Carlton Draught, and their epic ‘Beer Chase‘ TVC, launched at the AFL Grand Final. However, expect a few more starters this year.

Finally, here’s a list of the top 25 Super Bowl ads of all time. Give yourself 15 minutes – its great viewing.

  • Adam Ferrier is Naked Communications’ founding partner and global head of behavioural science. He is an occasional contributor to Gruen. A version of this post first appeared on his blog The Consumer Psychologist


  1. mumbrella
    4 Feb 13
    9:36 am

  2. Hi Adam,

    I agree. And I think there are one or two other advertisers moving in that direction too, including AAMI: http://mumbrella.com.au/how-th.....nda-119196


    Tim – Mumbrella

  3. Bem
    4 Feb 13
    9:45 am

  4. Great article, but I feel it will take more than just “let’s make the AFL Grand Final the new Super Bowl.” The AFL Grand Final is a boring, stagnant event when it comes to entertainment. The same yawn-inducing cars filled with past players are driven around, some B grade singer is shoved into a corner and nothing of excitement happens at half time. For something like this to truly succeed the AFL need to reinvent their Grand Final day completely. Do this and then the advertising, and the spectacle of the advertising, can start to develop.

  5. Scott
    4 Feb 13
    11:28 am

  6. Let’s not forget that AAMI’s Rhonda got her first airing in the 2011 Grand Final, which led to a campaign as enduring as any in recent years.

  7. Cat hater
    4 Feb 13
    2:32 pm

  8. Agree Adam,
    And Bem is also right. The AFL has to get their final up to scratch which will improve audience anyway.

  9. Bruno Watt
    4 Feb 13
    2:39 pm

  10. advertising isnt that crass or intrusive? Never seen a rugs-a-million commercial? Or any other of those AU commecials you cannot go a day without seeing that just yell one word at you over and over again.

  11. Alberto Rosso
    4 Feb 13
    3:58 pm

  12. The problem is that outside the 15% of mostly very insular Australians that watch the AFLGF, most people do not understand the game or why it should be attractive to anyone for, in essence, it has the same entertainment value as watching eight year olds playing rugby union.

    Ferrier seems to have forgotten that NSW and Queensland are not AFL crazy and despite evangelists like himself are likely to remain so,

    In fact such is the anathema of some people towards AFL that advertisers would do well to consider that a percentage of them would boycott any product or service that was advertised during the game.

    Bem is right when he says that the production of the AFLGF is pretty cheap and nasty. Futhermore the TV commentators and “expert talent” have reduced it to an onanistic festival of self congratulation and cross promotion.

    Oh and by the way Adam, it’s not “soccer” it’s football or, if you have to differentiate the codes, “association football”. Calling the round ball code “soccer” is akin to me referring to AFL as “footie” or “ALF”. By using “soccer” Ferrier puts himself firmly in the camp of the haters that are increasingly only found in the southern states.

  13. Darcy
    4 Feb 13
    4:13 pm

  14. Never gonna happen. You won’t get 33% of the population to watch.
    Also, the traditional AFL diehards will be aghast at the thought of their grand final being taken over by entertainment that’s bigger than the game itself.

  15. Renee
    4 Feb 13
    5:06 pm

  16. If you speak to anyone at the AFL, they are all about world-domination, so I think if they want to grow the audience numbers, this idea makes good sense.

    The pre- and mid- entertainment on the actual grand final day used to be a much bigger affair (choppers landing on the ground, etc) but I think the GFC really pared that back. Be good to see it liven up a little and offer more to the viewers that aren’t really interested in the game itself, just the spectacle.

  17. Matt
    4 Feb 13
    7:26 pm

  18. Good idea, but AFL would have to convince its commercial partners to make a solid investment in good creative work and possibly set some sort of standard. But as an aside, I’d have to disagree with Alberto. Soccer is soccer, it’s not football – unless you are a pom – and AFL is footie, last time i checked! I think you just put yourself firmly in the camp of I’m a pom and I can’t stand Australians calling “football” soccer.

  19. John Grono
    5 Feb 13
    10:21 am

  20. Adam, one difference is night-time vs day-time coverage that contributes to the share disparity. Ammunition for the AFL to move to a night-time grand final?

    Go the Swans.

  21. TV
    5 Feb 13
    12:00 pm

  22. A nice thought but two things come to mind for me. I follow many sports and have yet to meet a fan who likes the game they’re watching being interrupted by ads. Never piss off your core market. Also, NFL is a game of many stoppages so it actually lends itself to an ad blitz. When an ad comes on, fans are only missing out on seeing a team huddle. Where do you place a break on a free flowing game such as the AFL?

  23. Nathan
    7 Feb 13
    9:49 am

  24. Where do place a break in a game of AFL TV? How about every time a team kicks a goal? There’s 30 seconds to slip an ad in. I agree that you can’t piss the AFL die hards off. Why do the ads have to be a spectacle? Just put in quality, funny, memorable ads during the game and some real quality half time entertianment. Look at your core AFL audience. Probably 18-40 and mostly male but there is an increase in female audiences. So give them a world class rock band that they’ll enjoy or a pop superstar.

  25. Pablo Pickasso
    8 Feb 13
    9:26 am

  26. Only a night GF will help boost ratings and the entertainment factor.

  27. Ricki
    8 Feb 13
    1:33 pm

  28. Its about scale and hard costs…not ‘negotiables’ like media rates or whether AFL is up to it or not.

    In the US, brands will pay millions of dollars in hard production costs, to get their Superbowl ads ‘right’. And not just beer brands or banks with deep pockets, but 50 or so brands with lots of cash to spend on making a ‘mini-film’ that warrants the PR. They can justify it because when 80+million viewers see it along with the amplification of the ads, it’s money well spent.

    Australia doesn’t have (and never will have) that level of scale to generate multiple ads of that production quality, for one event.