Super Bowl ads are a cultural phenomenon, but are they worth it?
Stock image via Adobe.

Super Bowl television
It costs millions to buy airtime, and that's not even counting production costs.

It’s no secret that Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest — and most expensive — day for television advertisements. 

Indeed, some Super Bowl viewers tune in less for the gridiron action, and more for the commercial laughs. 

Viewed in more than 130 counties and the most watched television broadcast in the U.S. year after year, the Super Bowl fetches top-dollar ad-buys from companies and entities looking to build their brand, increase sales or create social media buzz. 

The year, the average price for a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl was between $6 million and $7 million, according to reports. 

University of Florida advertising expert Daniel Windels said the Super Bowl has remained the best opportunity for brands to put their products before a captive audience, despite the proliferation of social media and streaming services over the past decade.

“Last year’s Super Bowl was watched by more than 99 million people. No other show on TV comes close. Second place was half that number, and it was also a football game, and the most-watched entertainment telecast in 2022 was the Academy Awards, with 17.6 million viewers,” Windels explained. “So, wile the market size for the game might not be as high as it once was, it is still the largest event on the calendar for viewership in real time because people don’t watch the Super Bowl on delay.”

But, he said, “it’s not necessarily the best market spend for a brand.”

It’s a big deal he noted, if brands can afford it. 

The biggest cost for Super Bowl ads is, not surprisingly, the airtime itself. But the pricey spend doesn’t stop there, of course. Brands must also shell out significant funds for production, market testing and actors.

The price, Windels said, “can be astronomical.”

Typically, he said, a 30-second spot “might cost $500,000 to make.”

“But for the Super Bowl, brands want to elevate that production value to something similar to cinema quality to make a huge spectacle spot,” Windels, who before joining UF worked in advertising, said. “Now it costs millions to make.”

There are exceptions, he added, noting Coinbase’s bouncing QR code in last year’s Super Bowl.

“The commercial was simply a code bouncing around the screen, which was a rift on the bouncing DVD logo meme. The code directed viewers to the Coinbase site for a special bonus, and the message worked so well, it crashed their app,” he said. 

Some companies, even with the big spend on Super Bowl Sunday ad content, opt to share their ads early on YouTube. While that might excite fans hoping for a sneak peak of the ads — perhaps so they can use the break to grab a snack, refresh their drink or visit the facilities — Windels said he’s not sure it’s the best marketing strategy. 

“Part of what makes watching the Super Bowl a memorable experience is the sense of community it offers. We watch with friends, at parties and together with millions of others. People love that joint laughter, everyone getting it and being amazing together,” he said. “I think brands that reveal their spots prior to the game are diluting the power of the ad by letting the genie out of the bottle too soon.”

He said he gets the appeal — it maximizes press on the ads — “but there’s a trade-off for that.”

So what makes an ad special? The answer likely depends on who you’re asking, but for Windels, it’s all about entertaining and relevant connections. 

“People remember the three best Super Bowl ads and the tree worst and forget most of those in the middle,” he said. “It’s a high-risk, low-reward space for advertisers, and those that do it well become part of our lexicon.”

Windels remembers fondly, as do most of us, the 1995 Budweiser ad with frogs croaking Budweiser. 

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.



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