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In Super Bowl, First Ad May Not Be the Best

One of the nation’s biggest Super Bowl advertisers is pulling its commercials away from the front of the line.

Anheuser-Busch InBev will for the second time in three years relinquish its hold on the first commercial slot in the Super Bowl, citing research showing that ads appearing later in the game fare better in the quest to command consumer attention. “We found that spot does not get the attention of other points in the game,” said Lisa Weser, a spokeswoman for the massive brewer, during a presentation to media on Tuesday.

In doing so, Anheuser is casting doubt on the importance of having pole position – a 30-second ad berth typically known as “1A” in Madison Avenue lingo – in one of the biggest annual media events in the United States. The company has long kicked off the marketing hoopla that surrounds the gridiron classic, which in recent years has typically commanded more than 110 million viewers.

A spokesman for Fox Networks Group, the 21st Century Fox-owned outlet that will broadcast Super Bowl LI on February 5, declined to comment on Anheuser’s move or on whether demand for the first commercial slot in the game was robust. Fox has over the last few weeks been trying to sell the last 15 to 20 slots in the game’s roster of sponsors.

When Anheuser-Busch talks about the Super Bowl, people in the media industry tend to listen. The brewer has spent more than $520 million  on ad time in the game over the past 35 years, according to Kantar Media, a tracker of ad spending and is the official beer sponsor of the NFL through 2022. The company has a years-long deal to advertise in the Super Bowl, no matter which of three broadcast networks with NFL deals air it, and typically buys at least three minutes of time each year. In 2016, Anheuser-Busch spent $33.6 million on the Super Bowl, according to Kantar, up from $30.8 million in 2015.

Anheuser has had an option to use the “1A” spot since 1984, according to a person familiar with the matter, but doesn’t always use it.  Sometimes, the company wants to run a 60-second ad in the first quarter, but “1A” is meant to house a 30-second commercial.

The company taps data from Nielsen and the TV networks as well as internal analytics when making a decision about the slot, this person said. But recent data has suggested that ratings have been higher in other parts of the game.

Other data lend credence to the theory. In 2010, for example, Nielsen found that the most-watched commercial in Super Bowl XLIV was a spot for Doritos that aired in the fourth quarter at about 9:30 p.m. eastern. In 2011, In 2011, Nielsen found a fourth-quarter ad for General Motors’ Chevrolet Camaro was the most watched, capturing the attention of about 119.6 million What’s more, the 14 most-watched ads in that game  aired during the third or fourth quarters, according to Nielsen.

In recent years, competitive match-ups have turned the last half of the Super Bowl into must-see TV, compared with a slow of lopsided affairs that tended to dominate the 1980s and 1990s and made the second half relatively avoidable. So confident were advertisers in the shifting dynamic that in 2013, both Allstate and Coca-Cola ran original ads in the first ad break after the end of Super Bowl XLVII.




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