We Americans love our pleasurable pastimes and indulge them fully. My employer, the Nielsen Company, is the largest marketing research company in the world and how you spend your leisure time is one of the things we measure. A lot of us spend time watching football and that’s what I want to talk to you about today.

At this writing, everyone in the country seems to be gearing up for Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and The Pittsburgh Steelers. The great majority of U.S. households—9 out of 10—told Nielsen they would be watching Super Bowl XLV at home or at a friend or relative’s house instead of watching it from a restaurant or bar. And a survey of more than 60,000 U.S. households showed that 85 percent of Super Bowl viewers planned to spend the same amount or less on food and beverages for the Super Bowl this year, while only five percent planned to spend more.


For those of you who consider the Super Bowl “a holiday,” here’s a little known fact I can share with you: while beer and football may seem like a perfect combination, the Super Bowl is not the most popular beer holiday in the U.S. Nielsen’s research shows that the Super Bowl ranks relatively low among holiday beer sales, after Labor Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

By the time you read this, we will all know that Aaron Rodgers led the Packers to the title and was named MVP. But because of my deadline I won’t have all of the stats that tell you about the full success of the broadcast. We don’t know yet if this year’s number of viewers top last year’s. What I can tell you is that at the time I submitted this article last year’s, Super Bowl XLIV on CBS was the most watched TV program in U.S. history, with 106.5 million viewers. It managed to knock the venerable show “M*A*S*H” off that top spot, which attracted 105.5 viewers back in 1983.

In fact our research shows that the top five highest rated Single Telecast programs in 2010 were, in fact all those leading up to and following the Super Bowl—the Kick-Off, the Post Game, the NFC Championship and the AFC Championship. Then, of course, there is always the buzz and endless analysis about the commercials that ran during Super Bowl XLV.

Because of my deadline I won’t be able to tell you who won the advertisers’ battle to keep viewers glued to the TV during the commercial breaks. During Super Bowl 2010 nearly 48 minutes of paid television advertising (including the pre-game kick-off) ran during the game and drew an estimated $219 million in advertising. Why is this important to know? Well, in a recent online survey of 500 U.S. consumers, one in three respondents revealed they bought a product in the past 12 months based on seeing an ad for the product. So your consumer power is ever present. Those advertisers are vying for your hard-earned dollars. You’ve got the power to buy. (Or not.)

And when it comes to football, it’s not just a guy thing; more American women are watching the NFL than any other team sport. Up from 32.6 percent in 2006 to 33.6 percent in 2010 when an estimated 48.5 million women watched. Now in the spirit of full disclosure, I feel compelled to admit that unless a professional athlete crosses over into mainstream news because of a scandalous divorce, salacious dating habits, dog fighting charges or golf club wielding wives in the middle of the night—I’m clueless about sports. But maybe I’m in the minority. Advertisers are recognizing that more female viewers present a big opportunity for health and beauty companies to expand their reach. So ladies, don’t take your football viewing habits for granted. Advertisers notice that you’re paying more attention.

Which ads do best? An analysis of Super Bowl ads airing over the past six years (2005-2010) reveals that commercials featuring animals, humor and scantily clad women often show higher resonance among males and females. Last year’s Snickers ad, featuring Betty White being tackled in a friendly game of football was the best recalled ad. But you’ll have to wait for this year’s results. Patience, patience. I’ll tell all as soon as the data becomes available. But for now, can we please cut Christina Aguilera some slack? How many of you can sing all of the lyrics to the National Anthem totally unassisted?

(Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for The Nielsen Co., the leading global information and measurement company. For additional insights and research go to http://www.nielsenwire.com.)

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