Strategies for the Super Bowl of Advertising:
An Analysis of How the Web is Integrated into Campaigns

Juran Kim, Sally J. McMillan

University of Tennessee

Jang-Sun Hwang

Chung-Ang University


Advertisers spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl advertising. Are those ads part of larger campaigns? Specifically is the Web integrated with Super Bowl advertising? This study examined overall strategy (transformational vs. informational), message strategy (what to say), and creative strategy (how to say it) of the 2003 Super Bowl ads and related Web sites. Television commercials used transformational strategies more than did Web sites. Message strategies were more consistent across media than were creative strategies. Thus, campaigns may be integrated in “what to say” even when the “how to say it” seems different. Some unexpected relationships were found between message and creative strategies but these findings highlight the need to tailor messages to technological capabilities of media.


The Super Bowl is a showcase. Two football teams field highly paid players in an attempt to win the most important game of the season. Multiple advertisers broadcast expensive commercials in an attempt to win in the game of business. Consumers tune in to see both games. A poll conducted by Eisner Communications prior to the 2003 Super Bowl found that 14% of those viewing the Super Bowl tune in primarily to see the advertisements (Horovitz 2003).

With the price of commercial space during the 2003 Super Bowl at $2.2 million per 30-second spot, advertising is a high-stakes game. As one observer wrote: “It’s all about eyeballs. The Super Bowl advertiser who attracts, keeps, and delights the most viewers stands to win a lot more than a football game. It can be worth tens of millions of dollars in free publicity, bring in potentially millions of new customers and leave a fat chunk of the 88 million, or so, Super Bowl viewers feeling very good about the brand” (Horovitz 2003, p. B2).

With so much riding on their advertisements, advertisers agonize over the best way to communicate. Development of an underlying message strategy is central to advertising. But message strategy goes deeper than deciding what tricks to incorporate into the advertisement. Taylor (1999) defined message strategy as “a guiding approach to a company’s or institution’s promotional communication efforts” (p. 7). Advertisers use the message strategy to define “what to say” and then develop a creative strategy that focuses on “how to say it” (Taylor 1999).

In recent years, both message and creative strategies of Super Bowl advertising are often extended beyond game day through the World Wide Web. For example, in 2003 Levi Strauss ran a month-long Web campaign that culminated with a Super Bowl spot. The Reebok Super Bowl spot featuring “Terry Tate the Office Linebacker” reportedly drove more than 140,000 people to the company’s Web site within 24 hours after the advertisement ran (Forster 2003). But are these isolated instances, or are companies generally coming to recognize the value of the Web as part of an integrated marketing communication campaign that will help enhance and extend their Super Bowl advertising?

Earlier studies have found that Internet-based companies often lacked strategic thinking in advertisements they placed on the Super Bowl (Morrison and White 2000). But there is also evidence that companies spending big money for advertising and Web site development have begun to think strategically about how to integrate online and offline strategies (Forster 2003).

Super Bowl advertising is more than just a game. It’s an investment. As the Web becomes central to integrated marketing communications, advertisers must think strategically not only about the Super Bowl message but also about how that message translates into the online environment. This study profiles both message strategy (what to say) and creative strategy (how to say it) of national advertisements in the 2003 Super Bowl and Web sites for those brands. Examination of message and creative strategies for those brands helps to illustrate how the Web is (or isn’t) fitting into the overall IMC plan. Understanding strategic directions taken in the Super Bowl of advertising may provide insight into appropriate ways to address large and relatively diverse audiences. The study also offers the opportunity for testing a relatively new message strategy typology in a cross-media environment.


Super Bowl Advertising: Overview and Application

The Super Bowl is one of the most-watched television programs with ratings typically at or above 40%. In the past 10 years, more than 80 million people have watched the game each year (“Super Bowl Statistics” 2003). According to the Wall Street Journal, Super Bowl audiences tune in to the television commercials. Of those respondents who recalled seeing a Super Bowl advertisement, 61% said they paid more attention to advertisements that run during the annual game than to other television advertisements (Quick 2001). Overall, Super Bowl advertising seems to be valuable to study because many people see, and pay attention to, the advertisements.

Some researchers have found that the programming context for advertising influences consumers’ response to that advertising. For example, Gardner (1985) found that program-induced emotional reactions influenced recall for embedded advertisements. Pavelchak, Antil, and Munch (1988) examined emotional effects specific to Super Bowl advertising. They studied the effect Super Bowl XX had on the emotions of viewers in three cities and explored how these emotional reactions influenced recall for advertisements broadcast during the game. Pavelchak, Antil, and Munch’s (1988) study helped to increase our understanding of how the Super Bowl influences viewer emotions and how program-induced emotions influence advertisement recall. It also highlighted the feasibility and value of research regarding influential programs like the Super Bowl.

Morrison and White (2000) studied message strategy used by “” companies in Super Bowl XXXIV. Their study not only provided a description of how these new businesses rushed to Super Bowl advertising in 2000, but also directly examined the strategies underlying the messages in those advertisements. A key finding of the Morrison and White (2000) study was that many companies seemed to be advertising during the Super Bowl as a way to lend an air of credibility to their companies. Consumers might have more faith in the long-term viability of a company, if that company can afford to advertise on the Super Bowl (Morrison and White 2000).

Super Bowl Advertising and Integrated Marketing Communication

While Super Bowl advertising has been studied in the past, what seems to be missing from the literature is a discussion of how these high-profile ads are integrated into a total marketing campaign. As Morrison and White (2000) found, Web-based companies have used the Super Bowl to advertise their services, but how have other Super Bowl advertisers used the Web? Is it becoming an integrated part of their marketing communication campaigns?

Integrated marketing communications has been defined in various ways. The American Association of Advertising Agencies defines IMC as a concept of marketing communications planning that includes the added value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communications disciplines, general advertising, direct response, sales promotion and public relations. These disciplines are combined to provide consistency and maximum impact (Percy 1997). Duncan and Caywood (1996) define IMC as “a concept of marketing communications planning that recognizes an added value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communication disciplines and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency, and maximum communication impact” (p. 18). Cathey and Schumann (1996) propose that there are three dimensions that emerge from the numerous conceptual and operational definitions of IMC. These themes include “1) adoption of the audience perspective, 2) the integration of messages and media, and 3) the evaluation of outcomes” (p. 6).

Schumann, Artis, and Rivera (2001) argue that a core principle of IMC is that “consumers need to hear a uniform integrated message across media that access the consumer at a number of different and optimal points of contact.” Specifically, regarding message consistency across media, Schumann and colleagues (2001) stated that, as consumers obtain “more control of the flow of information, yet have more available information, the need for message consistency intensifies.” Traditionally, the principles of IMC have been applied to creating a unified message across media such as television and magazines (Duncan 2001). But, as control becomes more important in media such as the Web, it would seem that the Web should become a central element of an IMC campaign and should exhibit message consistency with other media used in the campaign.

However, several studies have found that despite the increase in emphasis on IMC, the overall information content of broadcasting media and print media are more different than similar (i.e. Abernethy and Franke 1996; Healey and Kassarjian 1983) . Healey and Kassarjian (1983) analyzed 468 ads for four product classes from 15 consumer magazines between 1970 and 1976. They evaluated informativeness in the ads using the Resnik-Stern (1977) typology and the result of their study showed that the average number of informational cues per ad was 3.78. A comparison with Resnik and Stern (1977) whose results indicated 0.67 cues in the television ads, led to their conclusion that magazine ads offer more informational cues than ads on television.

Abernethy and Franke (1996) examined media effects on the information content of advertising in their meta-analysis. They proposed that print media allow almost unlimited message length and processing time while broadcast media presents a constrained ad length and time because of fixed exposure durations.

Abernethy and Franke’s (1996) meta-analysis clarified differences in the numbers of cues found on average in print and broadcast media. The norms for the 18 measures of advertising information are reported in their meta-analysis. The mean number of cues across the 118 datasets (91,438 ads) was 2.04. Television and outdoor advertising contained the least amount of information with 1.41 and 1.42 cues, respectively, of the five major media. Newspaper (2.60 cues) and magazine (2.38 cues) ads averaged the most information, followed by radio (2.24 cues). The type of information also differed between advertising media. Newspapers had the most price, warranty, safety, and new idea information. Magazines led in quality, performance, nutrition, packaging, and research information. Radio led in providing information on components and special offers. Outdoor gave the most information on availability and taste. Television did not lead in any category. Overall, several previous studies (Abernethy and Franke 1996; Healey and Kassarjian 1983; Resnik-Stern 1977) proposed differences in the information content of advertising between broadcast and print media. Thus, the Web might also offer a new forum for information content and a challenge to advertisers who are attempting to develop an integrated marketing communication campaign.

Furthermore, the research findings of Carlson, Grove, and Dorsch (2003) expanded the IMC perspectives from media consistency to various integrated communication tools: image-oriented communication tools (e.g. brand advertising and public relations), marketing databases (e.g. market, message, and media strategies and tactics) and behavior-oriented communication tools (e.g. direct consumer sales promotion and response advertising). Following Nowak and Phelps (1994), Carlson, Grove, and Dorsch (2003) examined the degree of IMC utilization by service advertisers and found that services advertisements that exhibited higher degrees of integration tended to include more behavior-oriented communication tools (i.e., sales pro¬motion) than image-oriented communication tools (i.e., public relations), while non-integrated services advertisements emphasized im¬age-oriented communication tools, particularly brand advertising.

Overview of Message and Creative Strategy

Many studies use the terms message strategy and creative strategy interchangeably. However, some researchers (Frazer 1983; Laskey, Day, and Crask 1989; Taylor 1999) have distinguished between the two terms suggesting that the concept of “what to say” refers to the message strategy while the creative strategy is about the method of presentation or “how to say it.” Several scholars have suggested that both message strategy and creative strategy can be dichotomized into two basic approaches depending on whether the appeal focuses on product attributes and benefits, or on the creation of a brand image.

Aaker and Norris (1982) labeled the two basic advertisement types as “informational/ rational/cognitive” and “image/emotional/feeling.” Puto and Wells (1984) dichotomized advertising as “informational” and “transformational.” Puto and Wells (1984, p. 638) suggested that informational advertising: “. . . provides consumers with factual (i.e., presumably verifiable), relevant brand data in a clear and logical manner such that they have greater confidence in their ability to assess the merits of buying the brand after having seen the advertisement.” Transformational advertising: “. . . associates the experience of using (consuming) the advertised brand with a unique set of psychological characteristics which would not typically be associated with the brand experience to the same degree without exposure to the [advertising].” They suggested that informational and transformational categories are exhaustive, but not mutually exclusive, categories of advertisements.

Vaughn (1980) proposed a two-by-two matrix in which one axis represents thinking versus feeling message types, and the other axis represents high- versus low-involvement products. Vaughn’s matrix became the core of the well-known FCB grid that has been presented in textbooks for decades as a tool for developing message and/or creative strategies (see, e.g., Batra, Myers, and Aaker 1995).

Recent studies that applied this dichotomy to both television (Lee, Nam, and Hwang 2001; Morrison and White 2000) and the Web (Hwang, McMillan, and Lee 2003) found that informational strategies were generally used more often than transformational ones in American advertising and corporate Web sites. However, the Web sites for high-revenue companies (such as those that could afford to advertise on the Super Bowl) were more likely to use transformational strategies than were those of low-revenue companies (Hwang, McMillan, and Lee 2003). The literature and philosophy of integrated marketing communications, which was briefly reviewed in the previous section, suggests that companies should use a similar underlying strategy for all of their marketing communication materials.

H1: Overall strategies (informational and transformational) will be similar for commercials aired during the Super Bowl and Web sites available to consumers during the same time period.

In addition to the simple informational/transformational dichotomy, several researchers have suggested that multi-category message typologies can be employed. In general, these multi-category typologies attempt to provide more specificity within each of the two general message strategies. For example, Simon (1971) proposed ten categories of messages: Information, Argument, Motivation with Psychological Appeals, Repeated Assertion, Command, Brand Familiarization, Symbolic Association, Imitation, Obligation, and Habit Starting. In the next two sections, two kinds of multi-category typologies are explored. First is Taylor’s (1999) typology that focuses primarily on message strategy (what to say). Second is a summary of key research on multi-category typologies that focus more on creative strategy (how to say it).

A Framework of Advertising Message Strategy: What to Say

Taylor’s (1999) Six-Segment Message Strategy Wheel was developed by carefully reviewing the communication theories of James Carey (1975) and John Dewey. Social science literature was also reviewed with an emphasis on economic models of buying behavior. Taylor (1999) also reviewed significant literature on creative strategies such as Vaughn’s (1980) FCB Grid. Taylor’s model (1999) attempts to subsume Kotler’s buying models, the FCB Grid, the ELM, and the Rossiter-Percy Grid. Taylor’s model begins by dividing message strategies into the dichotomy suggested by Carey (1975): transmission and ritual views of communication. This dichotomy is similar to those reviewed in the previous section. But the literature reviewed by Taylor as well as his qualitative research suggested that each of those primary views could be sub-divided into three sub-segments for a total of six strategic approaches.

Taylor’s model is valuable for two reasons. First, the model considers message strategy from the perspective of how people make buying decisions and how advertising works. Because this model is based on consumers’ motivational behaviors, its application is not limited to message strategies in traditional media such as television and magazines and has been successfully applied to the Web (Hwang, McMillan, and Lee 2003). Second, the model offers sophisticated reasoning for identification of sub-segments and Taylor’s model gives the same attention to transformational advertisements as to informational advertisements.

Within the transmission view Taylor identified three segments: Ration, Acute Need, and Routine. The Ration segment is characterized by the Marshallian Economic Model (Taylor 1999). In the Ration segment, consumers are assumed to be rational and deliberative individuals. Consumers’ desire for product information is high. In the Ration segment, the role of advertising is to inform and persuade. When consumers make purchase decisions, it is important to seek as much information as they can get. The Acute Need segment is characterized by consumers’ acute need to buy a product (Taylor 1999). In the Acute Need segment, the role of advertising is to build brand familiarity and recognition. Consumers need information to make purchase decisions but time limits the amount of information they can process. The Routine segment is characterized by the Pavlovian Learning Model (Taylor 1999). The Pavlovian model assumes that consumer decisions are made on the basis of rational buying motives, but consumers do not invest large amounts of deliberation time, and buy according to habit. In the Routine segment, the role of advertising is to serve as a cue or a reminder. In this segment, advertising appeals to convenience and trivial interests, ease of use, and product efficacy. Consumers make purchase decisions on the basis of rational buying motives, but consumers buy according to habit without large amounts of deliberation time.

Within the ritual view Taylor also identified three segments: Ego, Social, and Sensory. The Ego segment is characterized by the Freudian Psychoanalytic Model (Taylor 1999). The Freudian Model assumes that consumers’ emotional needs are fulfilled by products that are ego-related. In the Ego segment, purchase decisions are emotionally and personally important to consumers and “allow the consumer to make a statement to him/herself about who he/she is” (Taylor 1999, p.13). The Social segment is characterized by the Veblenian Social-Psychological Model (Taylor 1999). While in the Ration segment, products are used to make statements to one’s self, but in the Social segment, products are used to make a statement to others. The advertising appeals are related to gaining social approval and to recalling and reliving social experiences through product consumption. The Sensory segment is characterized by Cyrenaics philosophy (Taylor 1999). In the Sensory segment, products provide consumers with “a moment of pleasure” based on any of the five senses: taste, sight, hearing, touch, or smell.

The second hypothesis builds upon the first by exploring similarities in how the principles of IMC are applied to message strategies. If companies are integrating their communication, not only should the informational/transformational strategy be similar across media, but similarities should also be found in terms of the use of the six message strategy segments identified by Taylor.

H2: Message strategies (as defined by Taylor’s six segments) will be similar for commercials aired during the Super Bowl and Web sites available to consumers during the same time period.

A Framework of Advertising Creative Strategy: How to Say It

While several creative strategy typologies have been offered in the literature, the typologies of Frazer are noteworthy because Frazer (1983) compiled a typology of creative strategies based on the order of historical development in the consumer goods field. As one of the frequently cited multi-category typologies of creative strategy, Frazer’s (1983) study identified the following seven strategies: Generic, Preemptive, Unique Selling Proposition, Brand Image, Positioning, Resonance, and Affective. Frazer’s typology appears to be exhaustive and to provide a reasonable number of categories. Frazer’s typology is also appealing because of the familiarity of the terminology. However, Laskey, Day, and Crask (1989) found classification difficulties with Frazer’s typology in a television commercial study. Specifically, Laskey, Day, and Crask (1989) found low agreement among coders when using the typology – especially when coding television commercials. The greatest confusion occurred in attempts to distinguish between the Unique Selling Proposition and Preemptive categories, and between Brand Image and Resonance categories, resulting in low agreement among coders. Laskey, Day, and Crask (1989) developed a revised multi-category typology designed for television commercials. This typology begins by dividing creative strategies into informational and transformational approaches.

Within the informational strategies category, Laskey and colleagues identified five segments: Comparative, Unique Selling Proposition, Preemptive, Hyperbole, and Generic Information. In the Comparative strategy, advertised brands are compared to others by showing or explicitly mentioning competing brands. In the USP strategy, uniqueness involving a product attribute or benefit-in-use is presented. In the Preemptive strategy, the objectively demonstrable attribute or benefit-in-use is presented. In the Hyperbole strategy, exaggerated claims and assertions are presented. Generic Information provides information about the product class in general without focusing on a particular brand.

Within the transformational strategies category, Laskey and colleagues identified four segments: User Image, Brand Image, Use Occasion, and Generic Transformation. User Image focuses primarily on the users of a brand and their lifestyles, not the brand itself. Brand Image focuses primarily on the brand (image) itself, not the users. Usually, Brand Image conveys a brand personality. Use Occasion focuses primarily on the experience of using the brands or on the situations for which use of the brand is appropriate. Use Occasion usually creates an association between the experiences of use and the brand, as well as an association between situations of use and the brand. Generic Transformation appeals to emotions related to the product class in general without focusing on a particular brand.

The third hypothesis builds upon the first two by exploring similarities and differences in creative strategies across media. The first two hypotheses predicted that both the overall strategy (transformational/informational) and message strategy (as defined by Taylor’s Six Segment Strategy Wheel) should be consistent across media. If the creative strategies flow out of message strategies, then logically they should also be consistent across media.

H3: Creative strategies (as defined by the Laskey, Day, and Crask typology) will be similar for commercials aired during the Super Bowl and Web sites available to consumers during the same time period.

Bringing Together Message and Creative Strategies

As noted earlier, research suggests that there should be a relationship between message strategy and creative strategy (Frazer 1983; Laskey, Day, and Crask 1989; Taylor 1999). While the message strategy provides a broad umbrella under which many creative strategies can be executed, it would seem reasonable that informational message strategies should lead to informational-oriented creative strategies and vice versa for transformational strategies.

H4a: The three informational message strategies identified by Taylor will be associated with the five informational creative strategies identified by Laskey, Day, and Crask.

H4b: The three transformational message strategies identified by Taylor will be associated with the four transformational creative strategies identified by Laskey, Day, and Crask.

The hypotheses outlined above address the data in aggregate to identify ways that message strategy and creative strategy are implemented in Super Bowl commercials and Web sites for those advertised brands. The literature also suggests a key question that is not addressed by these hypotheses but that is worthy of exploration:

RQ1: Are message strategies (as defined by Taylor’s six segments) more consistent than creative strategies (as defined by the Laskey, Day, and Crask typology) in the commercials aired during the Super Bowl and Web sites available to consumers during the same time period?


To test the hypotheses and explore the research question detailed in the previous section, Super Bowl XXXVII was videotaped in its entirety in January of 2003. All national commercials, a total of 55 from 40 advertisers that appeared during this time period were analyzed. Regional or local advertisements, promotions for upcoming ABC shows, or spots promoting the commercially sponsored half-time and post-game shows were not analyzed. A few advertisers (e.g., Budweiser) aired two or more different commercials and each of those advertisements was individually analyzed.

Because a primary concern of this study was to determine how well the Web is integrated into advertising campaigns, the researchers also downloaded and analyzed Web sites for all 40 of the national advertisers who advertised on the Super Bowl. Coders conducted a thematic analysis to identify the creative and message strategy for each Super Bowl commercial, Web site, and magazine ad (see Appendix I for a copy of coding form). Specific descriptions of the message strategy model (Taylor 1999) and the creative strategy typology (Laskey, Day, and Crask 1989) were used for coding guides (see Appendix II). Coders used the same coding sheet to record the company/brand name, overall strategy (Transformational/Informational), message strategy, and creative strategy. While creative strategy categories are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive, creative categories coded were implemented on a check all that apply because multiple creative strategies are commonly used in TV commercials. The coding sheet allowed the researchers to record all creative/message strategies that applied because commercial messages often use multiple strategies.

Each television commercial was reviewed several times. Because there are several categories in both the creative and message strategies, the strategy was not always clear during the initial viewing. The opening pages of Web sites were also analyzed and they were relatively less demanding to code, because the Web sites’ main visual and text components usually looked like magazine advertisements, which are one-shot executions. However, application of content analysis to the Web is challenging and somewhat different from analysis of content in traditional media. McMillan (2000) noted some potential challenges in conducting content analysis on Web sites including challenges of sampling (e.g., frequently changing content), unit of analysis (e.g., the number of pages is limitless and varies by domains), and so forth.

Defining the unit of analysis is a unique challenge on the World Wide Web. McMillan (2000) found that many content analysis studies on the Web code the front page or homepage of the site although several researchers (e.g. Macias and Lewis 2003) argued that content analysis on the web should take a more comprehensive approach to defining the unit of analysis. For example, Li (1998) coded articles on the home page including picture graphs, news articles, and news links. Ha and James (1998) argued that the home page is an ideal unit of analysis because based on the first impression of the home page, many visitors to a Web site decide to continue to browse the site. They also argued that coding an entire site could be extremely time-consuming. Web sites that range from one page to 50,000 pages might introduce biases based on Web-site size (Ha and James 1998). Further, this study attempts to analyze not the detailed information, but rather focuses on the main message and creative strategies on the Web sites. Thus, this study examined the front pages as the context unit of analysis on the Web sites.

All Web sites were visited shortly after the Super Bowl and their front pages (opening screens) were captured with screen-capture software (camtasia). Where possible, sites specific to the advertised brand (rather than an overall company site) were examined. These “captured” pages showed the appearance of those Web sites at about the same time that the Super Bowl commercials aired, and were used for analysis. Only message strategies found on these front pages were analyzed. This helped to reduce bias based on the overall size of the Web site and also focused on the core message consumers would see when they first went to the site. Major visual and textual components were examined in evaluation of the creative/message strategy.

Two of the authors of this study did all of the coding. They worked together with the third author in a series of intensive sessions to clarify the coding instructions for each coding category to ensure reliable coding. The process was facilitated by the fact that many of the coding materials were based largely on earlier studies conducted by the study authors.

An inter-coder reliability check was conducted based on Cohen’s Kappa, which is one of the most frequently used tests to determine category values and account for chance agreement for a reliability assessment (Riffe, Lacy, and Fico 1998; Spears 2003). Cohen’s Kappa ranged from .73 to 1.00 – scores that are generally considered to be acceptable for content analysis.

Disagreements between the two coders were resolved in a two-step procedure. First, the two researchers who were primary coders discussed specific items about which they disagreed. Some disagreements were easily resolved in this stage because they involved simple oversight or misunderstandings. Second, the third researcher who was also familiar with both the message strategy model and the typology of creative strategy used in the study, reviewed items that remained unresolved and helped the primary coders come to agreement.

The researchers chose to code themselves rather than train independent coders because familiarity with the coding scheme was essential. In particular, coding for message strategy required not only a knowledge of the Six Segment Strategy Wheel, but also an understanding of its theoretical underpinnings and consideration of the consumer’s motivation when encountering the advertising message.


The current study was designed to examine the message and creative strategies of Super Bowl advertising and to also examine how well Web sites fit into the overall IMC campaign of those advertisers. Much of the data analysis in this section focuses on a direct comparison of the Super Bowl commercials and the related Web sites.

A particular strength of this study is that the commercials and Web sites examined represent a census of all Super Bowl advertisers in one year. Although the relatively small N has been reported in the data tables, differences are real differences because this study is a census. In general, the results reported here provide a descriptive analysis of how advertising “big spenders” integrate message and creative strategies across television and the Web. The data is presented as a way of helping to summarize the descriptions.

Informational – Transformational Strategies across the Media

Hypothesis 1 predicted that the overall strategy (informational and transformational) would be similar across media because these advertising “big spenders” would be concerned about integrating their marketing communication messages. The informational/transformational strategies were coded on a scale from one to five using the following sequential categories: entirely transformational, relatively transformational, both transformational and informational, relatively informational, and entirely informational. A higher score on this scale indicated a more informational strategy.

Differences were found in strategies used in television and the Web. Television commercials scored a mean of 2.709 compared with a mean of 3.750 for the Web. This indicates that the television commercials were more transformational, while the Web sites were more informational. Therefore, hypothesis 1 was not supported.

Given the inherent characteristics of each medium, this finding is not surprising. Television is generally seen as an entertainment medium while the Web is used more for information-search behaviors. Thus, it would seem that advertisers are more concerned with tailoring messages to the inherent characteristics of the medium than with integrating the Web tightly into the transformational/informational strategy of Super Bowl advertising. This is also consistent with research reported earlier that found television to be one of the least information-rich media (Abernethy and Franke 1996; Healey and Kassarjian 1983; Resnik-Stern 1977).

Message and Creative Strategies in Each Medium

Hypotheses 2 and 3 were developed to further examine the extent of message and creative strategy integration across media. Hypothesis 2 predicted that message strategies would be similar across media while hypothesis 3 predicted that creative strategies would be similar across media. As illustrated in Table 1, partial support was found for each of these hypotheses.

Table 1. Creative/Message Strategies across Media Types

Creative/Message Strategies across Media Types

Most message strategies were consistent across media (as indicated by within-media percentages that differed by less than 15%), but the Sensory strategy was used more often in television than on the Web. Television apparently has a greater capacity to appeal to the senses than does the Web at this stage of development of the two media. Descriptive data on both media types is shown in Table 3. Generally, Routine and Ego were the most-frequently used message strategies in both media.

In analysis of creative strategies, it is interesting to note that three of the nine strategies were virtually unused: Comparative, USP, and Generic Transformational. Of the remaining six strategies, three were fairly consistent across media (Generic Informational, Brand Image, and Use Occasion) and three were not consistent – again as indicated by within-media percentages that differed by less than 15% (Preemptive, Hyperbole, and User Image).

The Preemptive strategy was used more frequently on the Web while Hyperbole and User Image were used more frequently on television. The heavier use of the Preemptive strategy on the Web is reasonable because by definition the Preemptive strategy should objectively demonstrate product attributes. The virtually limitless time and space benefits of the Web enable companies to provide enough information to support Preemptive claims.

The popularity of Hyperbole in television commercials may also be explained by comparative media characteristics. Current television commercials are characterized by limited time and high executional capability. Specifically, television commercials must attract consumers’ attention in a short period of time; therefore, they are more likely to exaggerate how their products are beneficial. The well-developed techniques for creating television commercials help make this possible. In the future, as bandwidth increases and technology improves, the Web might also be able to present messages with high production values that use the Hyperbole strategy. The popularity of User Image in television commercials may also be related to capabilities of the medium that allow for the development of “story lines” that define product users.

Generally, more differences were found in the creative strategy than in the message strategy. Thus, IMC seems less likely to be implemented at the creative strategy level than at the message strategy level.

Relationships between Message Strategies and Creative Strategies

Hypotheses 4a and 4b predicted that informational message strategies would be associated with informational creative strategies, while transformational message strategies would be associated with transformational creative strategies. Thus, when the three non-used creative strategies identified in Table 1 are removed one would expect Preemptive, Hyperbole, and Generic Informational creative strategies to be used with Ration, Acute Need, and Routine message strategies. Similarly, one would expect User Image, Brand Image, and Use Occasion creative strategies to be used with Ego, Social, and Sensory creative strategies.

As illustrated in Table 2, informational creative strategies were most likely to occur at rates of 50% or higher in advertisements that were based on informational message strategies. This was true for Preemptive and Routine creative strategies that were highly associated with Ration and Routine message strategies. Similarly, about 83% of ads using a Hyperbole creative strategy used a Routine message strategy. 90% of ads using the Generic Informational approach used a Ration message strategy, while 60% of the Generic Informational ads used a Routine message strategy. The one slight anomaly in the analysis of the informational creative strategies was the relatively high use (54.2%) of the Ego message strategy in ads using the Hyperbole creative strategy. Nevertheless, overall support was found for Hypothesis 4a.

Some relatively strong associations (those found 50% of the time or more frequently) were found between transformational creative strategies and transformational message strategies. In 59.5% of ads using the User Image creative strategy, an Ego message strategy was used. Additionally, in 76.2% of ads using the Brand Image creative strategy, an Ego strategy was also used. These findings lend some support to Hypothesis 4b. However, other findings suggest that the link between transformational message and creative strategies might be fairly weak. For example, in more than 50% of the ads using one of the three transformational creative strategies, a Routine message strategy was used. In 55.6% of the ads employing a Use Occasion creative strategy, a Ration information strategy was used. Thus, hypothesis 4b was not strongly supported.

Table 2. Relationships between Message and Creative Strategies

Relationships between Message and Creative Strategies

Consistency of Message and Creative Strategies across Media

Research question 1 asked whether message strategies are more consistent across media than are creative strategies. As illustrated in Table 1, message strategy does seem to be generally more consistent than creative strategy. In both media, Ego, Routine, and Ration were the most popular message strategies. Table 1 also shows less overall consistency in creative strategy. For example, while Preemptive was the most popular Web creative strategy (used by 82.5% of Web sites) less than 22% of television commercials used a Preemptive creative strategy.

However, the results in Table 1 report data in the aggregate. To get an in-depth understanding of the strategies used by specific companies, it is more useful to examine message and creative strategies across media for each brand. Table 3 provides a detailed picture of the relationships between message and creative strategies. If a single brand aired more than one advertisement on the Super Bowl but had a single Web site, the Web site is coded only once.

Table 3. Message Strategy and Creative Strategy by Advertiser across Media

  Message Strategy and Creative Strategy by Advertiser across Media

A detailed review of Table 3 shows that for most brands message strategies were more consistent across media than were creative strategies. There were many cases in which the message strategy was identical for all media while different creative strategies were used for the television commercials and Web sites. However, the opposite never occurred; there were no instances of a unified creative strategy with different message strategies.

For example, in the case of Cadillac, television and the Web site both used Ego and Routine message strategies. For television, User Image and Brand Image strategies were used. The Brand Image creative strategy was also used on the Web, but the User Image creative strategy used in television was replaced by a Preemptive creative strategy on the Web. In the case of FedEx, both media used a Ration message strategy but the television commercial used Hyperbole and Brand Image creative strategies while the Web had a Preemptive creative strategy. Three additional cases illustrate the fact that message strategies tended to be more enduring than creative strategies. Gatorade used Ego and Routine message strategies for both the television commercial and Web site. The creative strategy for the commercial was User Image, Brand Image, and Use Occasion, but the Web site used a Preemptive creative strategy. In the case of Lamisil, both the television commercial and Web site used a Ration message strategy. The television commercial used a USP creative strategy, but the Web site used Preemptive, User Image, and Use Occasion creative strategies. Finally, in the case of Visa, both the television commercial and the Web site used Routine and Ration message strategies. But the creative strategies were quite different using Generic Informational, User Image, and Use Occasion for television and Preemptive for the Web.

In addition, in most cases of movie advertisements (e.g. Anger Management, Daredevil, Matrix, and Bruce Almighty), television commercials and Web sites showed consistent uses of message strategies while employing somewhat different creative strategies. In most cases, these advertisements promoting future movies used Ego and Routine message strategies. Many used Brand Image creative strategies in both their television commercials and Web sites; many also added a Preemptive creative strategy to their Web sites.

Further, considering the product type, there were 18 service advertisers (e.g. telecommunication, financial, entertainment) among the total of 40 advertisers. Among service advertisers (e.g. AT&T, H&R Block) overall strategies, message and creative strategies tended to show more consistency between TV and the Web than those of consumer goods advertisers in the IMC perspective. For example, 40% of consumer goods advertisers showed clear differences of overall strategies between TV and the Web, while only 16% of service advertisers show the difference.

As noted earlier, there seemed to be some evidence that the Web remains an outlier in the integrated marketing communication program. Table 3 provides a bit more support for this idea. For example, in the case of H&R Block, TV used a relatively informational, Ration message strategy while the Web used entirely informational, Ration, Acute Need message strategies. Also, TV used Preemptive, Use Occasion creative strategies while the Web used Preemptive. In the case of Levi’s, TV used User Image, Brand Image creative strategies while the Web used Preemptive, User image, Brand Image; although both TV and the Web used the same message strategies, Ego, Routine.

In the case of Sony Electronics, television and the Web showed differences among overall strategy, message strategy, and creative strategy. TV used an entirely transformational strategy and Ego, Social message strategies, while the Web site used an entirely informational strategy and Ration strategy. Further, TV used User Image and User Occasion creative strategies while the Web used Preemptive, Brand Image, User Image strategies. Overall, the answer to research question 1 is that message strategies are generally more consistent across media than are creative strategies.


Companies that advertise on the Super Bowl are powerhouses. They spend big money on television commercials and, as of 2003, they also all have Web sites. Yet despite their willingness to spend big money, they are not consistently integrating their creative strategies across media. Instead, they seem to be ecognizing the differential capabilities of media types and attempting to strategically maximize their messages for the medium.

This study extended earlier research on Super Bowl advertising and companies (Morrison and White 2000). While earlier research focused primarily on the creative strategies of technology companies, this study applied analysis of creative strategies to the multiple media types that are enabled by technology. Other early studies (Hwang, McMillan, and Lee 2003) have looked at creative strategies on Web sites. But this study went further by comparing Web-based strategies to high-visibility television strategies.

In general, the television commercials were more likely to take transformational approaches while the Web sites were more informational. Advertisers seem to be viewing television as a way to appeal to the emotions and the Web as a way to address consumers’ intellectual curiosity. For now, television seems to provide better production values that lead to stronger emotional appeals – particularly when the message strategy is based in the senses. The Internet is a stronger tool for information-oriented creative strategies – particularly those that use the depth and breadth of the Web to help build Preemptive arguments. But there is evidence that the fundamental message strategy (what to say) is more likely to remain stable across media than is the creative strategy (how to say it). The Web site may be designed to endure with a relatively stable message strategy while multiple advertising campaigns in traditional media may be executed that embrace differing creative strategies.

One of the more perplexing findings of this study is the relatively high number of unexpected relationships between message strategy and creative strategy. Some of the strongest associations were for expected relationships (e.g. Ration and Preemptive; Ration and Generic Informational; Ego and Brand Image) and these relationships are fairly easy to understand. But relatively strong associations were also found for unexpected relationships. For example, Hyperbole (an informational creative strategy) was associated fairly strongly with Ego (a transformational message strategy). This may be because Hyperbole is used primarily in television, which is generally used less for informational purposes than is the Web. Thus companies might be adding Hyperbole to television ads that are generally designed to have a transformational appeal. Other examples of relatively strong unexpected relationships between message and creative strategies include the use of both User Image and Brand Image (transformational creative strategies) with Routine (an informational message strategy). In both cases advertisers might be attempting to build an image through perceptions of routine product use.

The association between Routine and Brand Image may be best explained by one product category in which it frequently occurs – automobiles (e.g. Cadillac, Dodge, and Nissan). These high-involvement products assume that the customer will seek information before purchasing a car. But, despite these high information needs, brand image may also weigh heavily in consumers’ purchase decisions. Actual features of automobiles might vary only slightly between brands (e.g. the Chrysler Sebring and the Dodge Intrepid) but strongly different images may be created for each brand.

Some other unexpected relationships between message and creative strategy must be viewed with care because of the relatively small number of instances of advertisements and/or Web sites in a category. This relatively small sample is one of the most important limitations of this study. Future studies should compare message and creative strategies across media using a larger number of advertisers drawn at random from a specified universe. Such a future study could make broader generalizations from the sample to advertising as a hole. But for the current study, which focuses more on describing similarities and differences, the small sample of high-profile advertisers was appropriate.

Future studies might also expand to other traditional media. Further analysis of message consistency across multiple media types would provide insights into how much integration actually occurs in message and creative strategies and how well integrated the Web is into a total IMC campaign. Another alternative for future studies is to review strategies of fewer advertisers but examine them in more depth. For example, is there consistency in executional elements (e.g. color, graphics, etc.) across media that help to provide a kind of thematic unity even when underlying strategies vary?

This study has clear potential applications to advertisers. Most importantly it illustrates the reality that the big spenders in the advertising game are putting their money into matching the message with the medium rather than on trying to achieve slavish consistency of creative strategy. Nevertheless, they are, for the most part, remaining true to a fundamental message strategy across media. Other advertisers who want to compete in the “big game” might do well to follow their lead.

This study has implications for researchers as well. It illustrates the strength of Taylor’s (1999) Six Segment Strategy Wheel as a tool for identifying message strategies. Not only can this tool be applied across media, this study also showed that message strategy is a potentially enduring construct across media types and can be flexible enough to encompass multiple creative strategies. Message strategy seems to be a better measure than creative strategy for understanding how advertisers might integrate their marketing communication.

Advertising educators often use Super Bowl advertising in the classroom to illustrate the kinds of messages that are broadcast to large diverse audiences as well as to illustrate key media principles such as cost per housand. This study provides educators with an additional opportunity for the ritual showing of the Super Bowl advertisements – a discussion of how both message strategy and creative strategy are implemented in these high-profile commercials.

The Super Bowl is a showcase for advertising. Campaigns launched via Super Bowl commercials often run long after the game is over and are expanded into other media. Understanding how message and creative strategies play out in this game is an important step in understanding both the media and the messages.


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Appendix I- Coding Form

Coding Form

Appendix II – Coder Guide

1. Informational/ Transformational Strategy

General direction: This five-point scale needs to get somewhat qualitative sense. The decision needs to be made strongly based on the result of specific message strategy (1-a). For example, if no transformational strategy (e.g., Ego, Social, sensory) is found in the precedent step of 1-a, the decision on this item should be either “Relatively informational” or “Entirely informational.” If the coder evaluate that both transformational-side strategy and informational-side strategy are almost equally employed, “Both transformational and informational” should be coded. Both “entirely informational” and “entirely transformational” can be coded when all specific strategies coded in 1-(a) are one-side (either transformational or informational) strategies. (Basic assumption: Six message strategies can cover all message strategies.) 

Informational/ Transformational Strategy

2. Creative Strategy

General direction: To get consistence, code the specific strategy (a) first followed by overall strategy (b). For the websites, mainly examine the main visual and texts but links including buttons.

  Creative Strategy
3. Message Strategy

General direction: Mainly examine the main visual and texts but links including buttons. To get consistence, code the specific strategy (a) first followed by overall strategy (b).

Message Strategy

About the Authors

Juran Kim is a doctoral candidate in advertising at the University of Tennessee. Her M.A. in advertising is from the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on interactive advertising and consumer behavior issues including Internet brand community studies. You may reach her at: [email protected].

Sally J. McMillan (Ph.D., University of Oregon) is an associate professor of advertising and public relations at the University of Tennessee. Her research focuses on exploring the concept of interactivity, definitions and history of new media, health communication, and the impact of communication technology on organizations and society. Dr. McMillan has published research in the Electronic Journal of Communication, Health Communication, Journal of Advertising, Journal of Advertising Education, Journal of Advertising Research, Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, Journal of Interactive Advertising, Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, and New Media and Society.

Jang-Sun Hwang (Ph.D., University of Tennessee) is an assistant professor at Chung-Ang University, Seoul, Korea. His research focuses on interactive advertising and online consumer behavior, especially with qualitative research methods. You may reach him at: [email protected].