When the very first Super Bowl was broadcast in 1967 there were only three television networks. The game was simulcast on NBC and CBS to a combined audience of about 50 million people.
Today, the media landscape is quite a bit more diverse. The total audience is larger, but much more fragmented. The relative monoculture of the ‘60s has given way to hundreds of separate subcultures. With thousands of channels, dozens of networks, and a whole world of streaming services gaining ground every year, there is something for everyone.
So, it’s a little surprising that the Super Bowl is still a major cultural touchstone for such a wide audience. But, everyone from die hard fans to once-a-year watchers enjoys taking part in the world’s biggest media spectacle, which is why it’s also still the biggest stage for advertisers.
Brands that intend to buy time during the Super Bowl start planning for the event pretty much as soon as the last one ends. Here’s what to expect from them this year:
Mobile devices, fast-paced lifestyles, short attention spans, and the incredible proliferation of new channels and types of media have been steadily altering viewing habits for several years, pushing creators to experiment with shorter forms of content.
During the 2017 season, Fox Sports sold the smallest increment of air time for a NFL game ever, a mere six seconds. NBC, who will be airing Super Bowl LII, will be bringing the new, abbreviated format to the big game next month. Despite this trend, longer-form ads will still dominate the broadcast, with the most ads ever over 30-seconds in length.
Ad spots don’t come cheap for the Super Bowl, with the average cost of 30-seconds of air time hitting $5 million this year, and that doesn’t account for several million more that has to be spent on creating the content and backing it up with an integrated campaign, complete with public relations, digital support, contests, and live activations.
It may seem expensive but, with an audience of over 100 million people tuning in, which dwarfs the next largest broadcast of the year, the Academy Awards’ paltry by comparison 30 million viewers, big brands are still investing in the Super Bowl’s premier ad products.
It makes sense, really. The biggest game and the biggest broadcast of the year demands equally big ideas. As Dan Lovinger, executive VP of advertising sales at NBC Universal Sports Group, put it: “Advertisers look at this as the ultimate platform to tell a story and storytelling takes a little bit of time.”
Social and Emotional
They went even bigger last year for “Operation Better,” a touching, 90-second mini-documentary that was produced during the actual broadcast. Instead of a celebrity, the spot featured overseas U.S. soldiers enjoying the game, including three that got to share the experience with loved ones back home via immersive 360-degree video technology.
It was ranked highest in “likely emotional, social, and business impact” by video ad tech company Unruly, which surveyed 1,500 people. 88-percent of respondents said the content came across as authentic and 55-percent said they had a more favorable view of the brand after watching it.
In previous years, most ads have shied away from pressing issues of the day, opting for light-hearted and fun material. Lately, however, more and more brands are daring to address consequential topics.
It’s a move that doesn’t come without significant risk. Audi took some heat last year for “Daughter,” a Super Bowl ad addressing equal pay for women. Viewers generally liked the message, but some were quick to point out that the carmaker’s own executive team was mostly made up of men.
Nevertheless, the commercial was deemed a net positive for the brand and named the fourth most effective and authentic ad of the broadcast by Unruly. It also generated significant buzz online, extending its reach by being shared and debated on social media:
“When you see high-profile individuals like Sheryl Sandberg and Ashton Kutcher re-posting the spot, you know you’ve struck a chord,” said Loren Angelo, VP of marketing at Audi of America.
Despite the inherent risks, there will likely be an uptick in ads with a social message this year, particularly surrounding women’s issues, partially because of a changing political climate, but also because women are simply becoming a larger part of the Super Bowl audience.
In 2009, women made up 40-percent of Super Bowl viewers. Last year, 54 million women tuned in, 49-percent of the total audience. That could explain why some brands like Carl’s Jr. and GoDaddy are moving away from using sex to sell their products.
Jeff Jenkins, chief marketing officer at Carl’s Jr., described the pivot as a return to fundamentals: “We are focusing our advertising and marketing strategy where it should be—on our great tasting, high-quality food.”
A Lasting Impact
Brands don’t risk their marketing budgets or their reputations lightly. Obviously, the benefit of advertising during the Super Bowl is significant, but just how much influence can 30-seconds of air time have? Turns out, quite a bit.
A recent study by researchers from Stanford and Humboldt University in Germany that was published in the journal Marketing Science found that not only does advertising during the Super Bowl cause a substantial bump in sales, but that it persists for several weeks after the game.
“Advertisers look at this as the ultimate platform to tell a story and storytelling takes a little bit of time.”
The study’s authors estimate that Budweiser’s revenue saw a 4.7-percent jump immediately following the Super Bowl last year — and that same jump recurred during subsequent major sporting events like the NCAA’s “March Madness and the NBA playoffs.
The study did point out, however, that brands like Bud, which are particularly associated with the Super Bowl, see a bigger benefit than those with less of a connection like Coca-Cola. That might go a long way in explaining why Hyundai has been winning top marks recently; they have been featured in the big game ten of the last 11 years.
The media landscape may have changed, but 100 million domestic eyeballs trained on an event that can only be experienced live is still a platform that the biggest brands covet. They will continue to experiment with new ad formats and content, but the goal is still the same as it’s ever been: create an ad that is as captivating as the game itself.