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Here’s what $5 million and a Super Bowl ad will buy you

If time is money, then a Super Bowl ad is … crazy expensive. This year’s spots will set advertisers back a record $5 million for around 30 seconds of air time, which works out to over $165,000 per second of play. As Fortune reports, the average cost of a Super Bowl ad has gone up by 75 percent — if only you could invest in one of those spots! But what is it that keeps so many advertisers coming back for more year after year, even as the holes in their pockets grow larger? What exactly is the payout when you’re spending $5 million?

The goals of a Super Bowl ad differ by brand. For those well-established names, there’s little that needs to be done in the name of brand recognition. So for some of these guys, it’s really more about sentiment — associating your beer, for example, with warm, fuzzy feelings. As Rebecca Brooks of the American Marketing Association notes, last year’s hugely popular Budweiser commercial worked “because it leverages hallmarks of the brand: Clydesdales, rural America and sentimentalism. It elicited, almost demanded, an emotional response.”

For smaller companies that are not yet household names, the Super Bowl serves as one giant microphone — one of the world’s largest stages upon you can either tap dance or, if we’re being honest, belly flop. Last year, Fluent, a marketing research and ad tech company surveyed some 1,600 Super Bowl watchers to determine before-and-after effects of some lesser-known advertisers. Impressively, the average brand lift was a whopping 12.7 percent.

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But ultimately, the majority of Super Bowl ads fail to actually influence sales or purchase intent. Communicus, an international advertising research firm, estimates that four out of five of these spots don’t do much by way of changing the business bottom line. And marketing analytics company Adlucent further notes that while ads are a huge part of the game, 87 percent of audience members are only watching them to be entertained, and only 6 percent are actively looking to learn about a brand they may not have known before. And most damning of all, less than 1 percent want to be influenced to spend money for a product or service.

“The number one reason these commercials fail is that advertisers and agencies are too focused on entertaining viewers more than elevating the brand,” said Jeri Smith, chief executive officer of Communicus in an interview with Bloomberg.

So what does $5 million really buy you? The biggest audience in your company’s history.