Whether you look forward to the Super Bowl commercials each year or consider them little more than a convenient bathroom break, you can't deny their enduring impact. Year after year, new and increasingly more expensive advertisements emerge to enthrall, entertain, and sell, sell, sell!
Join us as we look at the escalating cost of Super Bowl ads over the years and examine whether they’re actually a good investment for companies.
The evolution of Super Bowl ads
When done well, Super Bowl advertisements are more than just mere sales pitches; they're a platform for creating global conversations. Among the earliest breakthroughs was Apple’s iconic "1984" commercial, which represented a major milestone in advertising history. The spot was about the release of the Macintosh computer, and it sparked dramatic new ideas for the technology and advertising worlds.
Based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel of the same name, the spot featured dozens of bald men dressed in dull gray clothing making their way to a large screen. A woman in sports clothing then ran towards the screen and threw a hammer, breaking the screen and interrupting the speech made by Big Brother.
Viewers were instantly captivated by the strange ad, and it went on to produce millions of dollars worth of free advertising as news programs rebroadcasted it the same evening and for weeks to come. Aside from its impact on the public, it also took home many awards, including Advertising Age’s "Commercial of the Decade" for the 1980s.
That 1984 Apple Macintosh ad that aired during Super Bowl XVIII on January 22, 1984, which took inspiration from George Orwell's dystopian novel.— Wayback Clips (@waybackclips) January 30, 2024
The concept was to show the fight for the control of computer technology of the few against the many. pic.twitter.com/wW3EC4mZbu
Another enduring favorite is the 1980 Coca-Cola commercial featuring "Mean" Joe Greene. This heartwarming ad, in which Greene gratefully accepted a Coke from a young fan, not only resonated with audiences but also coincided with a triumphant Super Bowl victory for the Pittsburgh Steelers that very night. It forever changed the dynamic between players and fans and Advertising Age labeled it as their favorite Super Bowl ad of all-time.
By the time the '90s hit, Super Bowl commercials had become a spectacle unto themselves. Companies were willing to spend over a million dollars to display their products during the Big Game. Among them was Budweiser, which created a huge splash with its iconic "Wassup!" ad in 2000. The spot was real, authentic, and demonstrated the simple relationships that exist among men. Budweiser sales increased from 2.4 million barrels to a shocking 99.2 million barrels within a year, in large part because of the increased brand awareness and affinity created by the ad.
Today is International Beer Day, and with Friendship Day around the corner, let’s take a moment to recall the iconic Budweiser ad ‘Wassup?’ that aired during Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000. pic.twitter.com/QRu2a1vNFc— Social Samosa (@Social_Samosa) August 4, 2023
Although humorous advertisements are common for the Super Bowl, many advertisements took on a more somber tone following the tragic events of 9/11. For example, the 2012 Nationwide Insurance "Boy" commercial played with a lot of fans’ feelings by showing a boy who didn’t grow up because he passed away due to an accident. Another serious advertisement that played well was the Always' "Like A Girl" ad in 2016, which succeeded in targeting female audiences. Speaking of which...
Due to the rise in female viewers since Taylor Swift’s relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, companies are seizing new marketing opportunities. Health and beauty organizations like Dove, NYX Makeup, and E.L.F. Cosmetics will all be airing ads in 2024 at Super Bowl LVIII.
The growing cost of Super Bowl ads
When Super Bowl commercials first began, the cost for an advertisement was $37,000 for 30 seconds. Today, the minimum necessary to air a commercial is $7 million for 30 seconds. That's a whopping 18,919% increase. By comparison, regular Sunday night commercials cost just $900,000 during the NFL regular season.
|$37,500 (NBC) / $42,500 (CBS)
The cost of a Super Bowl ad over time
Why does it cost so much? One word: viewership. "It’s a throwback in terms of reaching everyone all at once," says Charles Taylor, a professor of marketing at the Villanova School of Business. Analysts have stated the rise in cost is due to supply and demand, and with the small number of advertisements shown during the Super Bowl, the competition is intense.
Are Super Bowl ads a good investment for companies?
Is the hefty price tag justified? Beyond the fleeting 30 seconds of screen time lies a more profound reason. "You’re not playing for that 30-second spot; it is a four-to-six-week buzz that you’re creating," says Mary Scott, a professor at Montclair State University who previously worked for an entertainment marketing agency. It is about the long-term narratives it creates and the people it draws in, there is no other time or event where you will reach more people than on Super Bowl night, around 100 million people. Therefore, if the company creates a long-lasting impression on the audience, it is ultimately worth the hype and money.
Super Bowl LV in 2021 generated $434.5 million in-game advertisement revenue, which is more than the NBA Finals and World Series combined. "The Super Bowl is more and more important because it’s a shared experience," says Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. "And what’s interesting is a lot of people watching the Super Bowl don’t even really care about the game. They’re watching the ads." With such high exposure, the price it costs to air the advertisement on the big night benefits the companies with profitability, long-term commitment, and positively influences consumer behavior.
Despite the constant increase in price to advertise a product at the Super Bowl, companies are willing to go all out for a 30-second appearance during the Big Game, and it appears to be worth every second of it. The advertisements create interesting storylines, and the companies gain sales and exposure, which captivates the viewers each year again and again.