When Super Bowl LII airs on February 4, it’s not just the fans who will be hoping for a close, exciting game.
Katharine Hubbard, assistant professor of communication and an expert in advertising, said that the suspense during the game can affect how much attention the audience will pay to the commercials. “If the game isn’t engaging, people aren’t that engaged with the commercials,” she said. “It’s a big gamble for the companies that are spending as much as $5 million for 30 seconds.”
Hubbard completed a doctoral program in advertising at the University of Texas at Austin after earning an MFA in copywriting at the Academy of Art University. She focuses her research on the difference between academic and practitioner knowledge of advertising. But when it comes to Super Bowl ads, she focuses on each ad’s effectiveness.
Advertising, said Hubbard, is “a persuasive message designed to get someone to do something. So the first thing an ad has to do is catch a person’s attention. Then it has to make an emotional connection.” She worked for a major advertising agency in Austin as a behavioral designer, where her job was to apply academic theory to help the creative staff design advertising that effectively changed behavior. “The biggest difference between academic theory and practitioner’s strategies is that theory investigates what makes advertising succeed or fail.”
As she watches ads on television or the internet, or reads them in print publications and billboards, she sometimes wonders why a particular ad’s creators thought it would be successful. “There is a lot of bad advertising out there,” she said.
As an example, she cited anti-smoking campaigns designed to inspire fear. “The problem is that if you scare people too much, they shut down and stop paying attention,” she said. “You have to know what the balance is if you want to affect behavior.” Still, emotions such as fear, anger, sorrow, and happiness are key to influencing consumers.
“I still remember the Super Bowl ad for Ram trucks, ‘God Made a Farmer,’” she said. “I’m from Nebraska and I have relatives who are farmers, so it really spoke to me.”
Hubbard thinks that advertisers may be moving away from defining audiences by demographic characteristics such as age, race, and gender and moving toward defining audiences by common interests. “I’m interested in ads for insurance companies like Geico because they have such a broad audience,” she said. “Everybody has to buy insurance, so it’s interesting to see how they try to connect with consumers.”
She is looking forward to watching this year’s Super Bowl with friends because she likes to observe other people’s reactions and compare them to her own. “But if the game is decided early on, none of us will be paying much attention to the TV,” she said.
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