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


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