The advertisements

I’ve never been a very big sports fan. I enjoy watching games when I personally know the players. High school basketball and football can be very entertaining when you know and care about the kids who are playing. And I’ve enjoyed watching a few professional baseball games from time to time. Baseball’s suspension of time, with no clock in the game, has a certain appeal to me. But when a friend starts to recite player statistics and tell me their love of the game, I feel a bit lost. I simply don’t follow sports enough to share their passion. Having said that, I remember that as a seminary student we borrowed a portable television from a friend so that we could watch the super bowl. I watched the entire game on that small black and white screen. And when I was an active pastor, serving congregations face-to-face in pre-covid times, I kept up on football enough to know which teams made it to the playoffs and which teams were competing in the super bowl. After all, I am older than the super bowl. I can remember the first time the big game was played and all of the hype that has surrounded the game over the years.

Almost as interesting as the game itself are the advertisements. Super Bowl adds continue to be among the most expensive advertisements that can be bought. a 30-second ad in this year’s Super Bowl costs as much as $7 million. That is a hefty increase over last $6.5 million. To put that in perspective, using a rough cash equivalent, Habitat for Humanity could build 70,000 homes for the cost of one 30-second advertisement. $7 million is enough to create a perpetual endowment that would produce sufficient income to completely fund the operating budgets of every congregation that I have served in my career. The cost of one thirty second advertisement could do so much good in the world. That money, however, will not be available because the companies who are purchasing the advertisements believe that it is a good investment. And most companies that purchase Super Bowl ads buy more than one.

Of course any investment involves risk. The high cost of super bowl advertising means high risk. The company may not receive the anticipated benefits of their ads. In 2,000, ran a series of very popular Super Bowl advertisements featuring a hand puppet interacting with delivery drivers and actual pets. The company filed for bankruptcy the same year. If you enter their URL into your browser today, you’ll find yourself at the website of a competitor, Petsmart, who was able to obtain their Internet Address after the company folded. It turned out that Super Bowl advertising was not a good investment for that company.

There will be plenty of ads for cars, beer and chips during this year’s game, but new to the field of advertisers for the event are several cryptocurrency companies. While around 85% of US adults have heard of cryptocurrency, only about 16% have actually invested in them. Cryptocurrency investment is generally seen as highly risky and something to be avoided. By purchasing the advertisements for the big game, companies are trying to create a new image that such investments are mainstream. By purchasing the expensive advertisements, they are also participating in a high risk adventure. They are betting that the emotions and energy that surround the big game might inspire a few folks to bold actions and big risks. They might be right. There could be quite a few people who go online during or after the game to explore the investments promoted by the advertisements.

Of course what pays off big for an investment company may not always pay off big for the investors. The cryptocurrency market, like other investment markets, produces losers as well as winners. And, unlike traditional investments in companies that can be researched and understood, investing in cryptocurrency is investing in an idea more than it is investing in a company. And ideas can be ethereal and fade quickly.

However, I’ve never been a big customer for the companies that advertise during the Super Bowl. I don’t drink Budweiser and I rarely purchase a bag of Doritos. I occasionally purchase a used car, but that decision isn’t based on which brands advertise during football games. Television advertisements for cars don’t give any information about how the car will perform when it is over ten years old and has over 100,000 miles on it. That’s pretty important information for someone who likes to keep cars for decades and drive them multiple hundreds of thousands of miles. Even Consumer Reports doesn’t give me the information I’m seeking when I make a vehicle purchase.

I have been entertained by listening to others talk about television advertisements. There have been a lot of times when someone has described a particularly interesting advertisement to me without including the name of the product that was advertised. They might name the celebrity who appeared in the ad, or describe the emotions they felt watching it. Sometimes people don’t even remember what was advertised at all after the ad.

In the end, Super Bowl ads are, in part, displays of wealth. Meta, the parent company of FaceBook will undoubtedly run ads during this year’s Super Bowl. This is not particularly a good year for that company. Their share prices have been plunging as the company has been losing subscribers and ad revenue. But they are still making a lot of money and they can afford to place expensive advertisements in an effort to boost their prospects. Cryptocurrency companies are purchasing the advertisements in part simply to display their wealth. They are saying “Look as us, we can afford these really expensive advertisements.”

There is a joke that you should never take financial advice from your minister. Spiritual advice yes, but financial advice, no. I’m thinking that it might also be a good thing not to take investment advise from a Super Bowl commercial. Then again, I may not be their target audience. I probably am not even going to watch the game today.

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