We’re just days away from the big game – and the Super Bowl remains the one event of the year where many people tune in just to see the commercials. That is why this year NBC is now charging $6.5 million per 30-second ad spot, up from $5.5 million last year. That is quite a jump from the first Super Bowl in 1967 when the Super Bowl aired on both NBC and CBS. The former charged $75,000 for a 60 second spot, while the latter charged $85,000 – unheard of at the time.
For years, Super Bowl ads were often just regular commercials, but that began to change in 1980, when, during Super Bowl 14, the now famous Coca-Cola commercial – titled “Hey Kid, Catch” – in which “Mean” Joe Greene gives his game jersey to a young boy aired. While it had already debuted during the NFL season in the fall of 1979, it struck a chord with audiences on Super Bowl Sunday.
The first truly “game changing” ad came just four years later.
It was Apple’s “1984” commercial, which was broadcast during Super Bowl 18. Directed by film maker Ridley Scott, it had cost about $375,000 to produce – while the average commercial spot that year was $525,000. It was a considerable sum for what was then still a largely unknown company, but it was seen as a worthwhile investment as the spot was reportedly seen by 85 million people and continues to rank as one of the most famous commercials ever.
Yet, it was actually the second time the ad aired. It had been broadcast on a small number of local western U.S. stations just before midnight on December 31, 1983 so that it would qualify for the 1984 Clio Awards.
Moreover, unlike many of today’s ads that will be seen for weeks after the event, the “1984” commercial wasn’t actually broadcast again. It is available on YouTube however.
Ads In 2022
Today, it is increasingly common for many of the biggest ads to debut in the days running up to the big game. And in the social media era, many ads can even go viral even if the game lacks excitement.
“Super Bowl ads are typically a good investment, because a lot of people pay attention during those commercials. In fact, some people watch the Super Bowl with that focus in mind,” said Julianna Kirschner, lecturer in the master of communication management program at USC.
“However, as the prices of Super Bowl ads soar, the investment can become more challenging for organizations as they develop their strategic plan,” Kirschner explained via an email. “Social media platforms are a good place to begin and continue the trajectory of a Super Bowl ad. Social media typically operate with structural division, meaning what one person sees in their feed may not be what another person sees.”
In addition, those who don’t tune in on Super Bowl Sunday will still encounter the ads thanks to the influence of social media.
“The platforms algorithmically separate people based on what they think users want to see. Organizations could use this structural division to their advantage, because they have a virtual captive audience,” Kirschner added. “Audiences that are primed for certain company messaging will often amplify their content, through original tweets, retweets, and sharing functions, which makes the content louder for those that might be within the same or adjacent algorithmic categorizations. Live tweeting can also be a way to connect with users interested in a brand, so they can engage with an organization’s content while their interest is piqued from the Super Bowl ad.”
How To Maximize The Ad Campaign
Given the price of the ads, the question is how social media can further maximize the exposure an ad gets.
“There are two sides to the situation. One argument for sure is that Super Bowl ads are overpriced for the airtime received. Advertisers can certainly get a lot more ‘bang for their buck’ by spending elsewhere, such as on influencers, more targeted ads on social media, or even direct mail,” said Colin Campbell, assistant professor of marketing at the Knauss School of Business at the University of San Diego.
“Some advertisers might also thinking about taking a guerrilla marketing approach and trying to create ads that play off major Super Bowl ads by spoofing, adding to, or even mocking them. This can be a really cost-effective way of leveraging another firm’s ad spend to your own benefit, but it is more common among challenger (up and coming) brands since it also draws attention to that other brand,” added Campbell.
“The other argument though is that the price of Super Bowl ads is worth it because of the buzz they receive,” Campbell continued. “This is analogous to the concept of ‘re-read’ in print media (magazines and newspapers), which advertisers know more than one person will likely read. The more re-reads a publication has, the more their ads are worth since they attract more eyeballs. Super Bowl ads don’t just get watched once during the game, they also are watched before and after on YouTube, as well as receive a lot of attention from the media. Factoring in all of this extra attention might make Super Bowl ads actually look reasonably priced.”
Ad buyers also need to be proactive, not reactive explained Dr. Dustin York, associate professor of communication at Maryville University.
“Every Super Bowl viewer has two things in common, viewers are all experiencing the same thing at the same time, and they’ll be watching the game with at least one smart device in reach. Social media is an opportunity for businesses to ‘news jack’ what millions of viewers are experiencing concurrently,” said York.
There can also be opportunities, even for companies that didn’t buy a spot.
“Remember the ‘Oreo tweet’ that went viral as soon as the Super Bowl stadium lights went out in 2013,” York noted. “Businesses should have someone on their social team prepared to create content that engages with a live national conversation spurred by the Super Bowl.”