Every year marketers and customers alike prepare for the largest advertising event in the United States: The Super Bowl. The famous sports event provides a unique mass marketing opportunity to utilize television advertisements to promote everything from chips to cars. This weekend is Super Bowl LVI, and everyone is wondering which of the multimillion-dollar commercials will flop and which will triumph. But why do companies willing spend huge portions of their marketing budgets for a 30-second ad? Super Bowl Sunday is the one time of year that people actually turn on the TV just to watch commercials.
“It is more like a national holiday than a sporting event — one that involves watching, evaluating, and discussing television commercials. This tradition has turned the Super Bowl into the championship of advertising.” 1
Historically, Super Bowl advertisements have been known for being creative and expensive. Apple’s “1984” ad for the Macintosh personal computer aired during Super Bowl XVIII and is credited for kickstarting this era of advertisement creativity with its innovative and inspiring messaging.2
Watch the ad here:
In 1970, the price of a Super Bowl advertisement was $78,200. This year, the cost has increased to about $6.5 million,3 making this Super Bowl’s ads the most expensive in NFL history.4 Interestingly, “Since 2010, Super Bowl ad costs have risen by a compound annual growth rate of 7 percent, while audiences have declined by 0.4 percent,” so why do companies continue to spend more to reach fewer customers?5
Let’s use Budweiser as an example to understand motivation behind such high spending on a seemingly less effective marketing platform. When Budweiser decided to shift focus on their target audience to sports-watching males in the 1980’s, their best strategic marketing option was to advertise their products during the Super Bowl, the ultimate sports-watching event in the U.S. In 2015, Stanford Business “researchers estimated that Budweiser earns an extra $96 million from their ads, receiving a return on their advertising investment of 172 percent,” likely because they have “held exclusive rights to national beer commercials in the Super Bowl for more than 20 years.” 6 If done right, Super Bowl advertisements can be very successful as a promotional tool and for generating return on investment.
Budweiser’s 2022 Super Bowl commercial uses the messaging, “In the home of the brave, down never means out,” appealing to patriotic pride through a story of perseverance:
The Super Bowl is usually one of “the most-watched event[s] in the United States year-to-year.” 7 On top of this, televised sporting events are more popular than most television. According to 2018 data, “sports programming accounted for 89 of the top 100 most-watched TV broadcasts in the United States.” 8 Because of this, advertising during sporting events will generally have more reach than the average television program. The Super Bowl, in particular, is an appealing advertising platform because it generates “twice as many viewers.” 9
Often times, ads during the Super Bowl will be sports-related or sports-watching related to appeal to this specific audience. For example, PepsiCo’s commercial this year features several of their brands like Pepsi, Lay’s, Doritos, and Tostitos being enjoyed by sport celebrities like Peyton Manning on their way to watch the Super Bowl. Along with the tagline, “Don’t forget the chips and sips!”, 10 PepsiCo’s marketing tactics implore viewers to purchase their products as Super Bowl snacking necessities.
PepsiCo’s Super Bowl ad:
While we usually think of Super Bowl Sunday as the day to watch these advertisements, many companies use the whole week leading up to the big day to promote their products. In 2019, “the major Super Bowl commercials that were released before the game were already watched over 100 million times online by Friday morning before the game.” 11 The Super Bowl truly embodies the purpose and power of television advertising and provides a unique and highly effective opportunity to reach a large audience during one event. While you’re watching the Super Bowl this weekend, consider the ingenuity and resources that so many companies put into each of the commercials and the impact that 30 seconds can have on a brand.
Questions marketing managers might consider:
- Do you think any company could use the Super Bowl as a promotional event? Are specific kinds of products like consumer goods more successful?
- Super Bowl advertising is a big investment, sometimes costing a significant portion of a company’s annual advertising budget. What could you do to ensure your Super Bowl ad achieves the return on investment you need to justify such spending?
- Consider your favorite Super Bowl commercial, if you have one. Why does it appeal to you? What strategies do the marketers use to get your attention?
1 Frank, J. & Silverstein, S. (31 January 2020). How the Super Bowl become the championship of advertising and how to win it today. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-super-bowl-became-the-championship-of-advertising-2020-1
2 Llamas, L. & Vranica, S. (31 January 2018). A Brief History of Super Bowl Commercials. The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-brief-history-of-super-bowl-ads-1517434980
3 Drake, B. (28 January 2022). The History of Super Bowl Advertising and What to Expect for 2022’s Big Game. Fargo Inc! https://www.fargoinc.com/the-history-of-super-bowl-advertising-and-what-to-expect-for-2022s-big-game/
4 Williams, M. (11 February 2022). Super Bowl commercial cost in 2022: How much money is an ad for Super Bowl 56? Sporting News. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/super-bowl-commercials-cost-2022/v9ytfqzx74pjrcdvxyhevlzd
5 Ciampa, D. (31 January 2019). Paying to play: The Super Bowl and the power of TV sports to reach younger viewers. Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/superbowl-advertising-marketing-strategy.html
6 Parker, C. B. (29 January 2015). Do Super Bowl Ads Really Work? Stanford Graduate School of Business. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/do-super-bowl-ads-really-work
7 Aitken, P. (7 February 2022). Super Bowl 2022 ad cost hits new high: $7M for 30 seconds in biggest-ever price jump. FOXBusiness. https://www.foxbusiness.com/lifestyle/super-bowl-lvi-ads-7-million-biggest-jump
8 Ciampa, D. (31 January 2019). Paying to play: The Super Bowl and the power of TV sports to reach younger viewers. Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/superbowl-advertising-marketing-strategy.html
9 Ciampa, D. (31 January 2019). Paying to play: The Super Bowl and the power of TV sports to reach younger viewers. Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/superbowl-advertising-marketing-strategy.html
10 PepsiCo. (13 January 2022). Road to Super Bowl LVI | PepsiCo. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2C6ZJEb0kg
11 Frank, J. & Silverstein, S. (31 January 2020). How the Super Bowl become the championship of advertising and how to win it today. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-super-bowl-became-the-championship-of-advertising-2020-1