The Rising Cost of Superbowl Ads

The hard hit, the furious blitz, and the dramatic catch draw tens of millions of viewers to the Super Bowl each year. This fanfare is not restricted to the gridiron, though: a lot of the gameday excitement revolves around Super Bowl commercials! The Super Bowl is both a sporting and "commercial" event: teams compete on the field for the ultimate prize while companies compete on the airwaves for consumers' attention and cash.

Securing a place on this TV battleground is not cheap. In 2000, a 30 second ad cost more than $1 million; the same 30 second block cost $2.6 million in 2009. These prices will only increase as more companies compete for ad time. Why are companies willing to pay these high prices?

First, it's a matter of sheer numbers. Super Bowl XLIV drew in 106.5 million viewers, the largest audience for an American TV program in history. Unlike a normal TV audience, these viewers will skip the ads less often and pay more attention to them. The opportunity to advertise to such a large and attentive group is priceless. Companies can use this time not only to sell products and services but also to nurture a desirable brand.

Second, these commercials live on well past their initial airing. After the big day, viewers gather around the figurative water cooler and discuss the commercials they liked and disliked. This word of mouth advertising is perhaps more valuable than the original 30 second spot. People trust their friends' opinions more than the carefully chosen words of any company. After the Super Bowl winner is crowned, bloggers and the news media construct lists of "winning" and "losing" ads. And with the rise of speedy internet video, viewers can rewatch and share their favorite commercials, further extending the ad's reach. Of course, a terrible ad can bury a company too, as negative word of mouth can cripple a company's credibility.

Companies are aware of the staying power of these commercials. As a result they work hard to ensure the commercials are memorable. They hire the best talent and spare no expense in crafting the funniest or most creative commercial possible, one that will draw and keep viewer attention. Consequently, a Super Bowl ad can cost more to produce than a standard commercial.

Those who manage to produce legendary ads reap the benefits for years, not just weeks. These commercials become 'memes,' entering into American culture and burrowing deep into viewers' brains. They are akin to the Super Bowl champions themselves: always imitated, never equaled. Examples of these epic commercials include the 1980 Coca-Cola ad where "Mean Joe" Greene throws his jersey to a fan; the 1993 McDonald's ad depicting a basketball game between Michael Jordan and Larry Bird; and the "I'm Going to Disney World" commercials, airing in different iterations for twenty years.

More recent Super Bowl ads that may one day achieve this immortality include the 2010 Snickers commercial featuring a football playing Betty White, Doritos' "Crash the Super Bowl" commercial created by amateurs, and Google's "Parisian Love" ad, documenting the blossoming relationship of a Google user and his Parisian love. Who will win the Commercial Super Bowl in 2011?

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