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The Super Bowl Commercial Arms Race

A look at exactly how much a Super Bowl commercial costs and how that number has grown astronomically over time.

With a mix of the humorous, educational, and wholehearted, Super Bowl commercials have become as much a part of the game as the on-field action itself.

While most commercials we see during the most popular televised event of the year are short and sweet, the checks businesses cut to land a slot are massive.

In fact, a 30-second commercial slot during Super Bowl LVI costs companies around $7 million.

Yeah, you read that right, $7 mill. Or, $233,333 per second.

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Brands are spending big bucks on promotion during the Big Game, both on NBC proper and digitally on platforms like NBC’s Peacock and Telemundo. It’s safe to say the stakes are high in this game, and not just for the teams involved.

Here is a deep dive into the economics behind Super Bowl ads and why they are evolving.

Is a Super Bowl Commercial Worth the Money?

In a word, yes.

The impact is endless, and accessibility is important here. Game watchers aren’t just tuning in from their TVs at home anymore; they watch from their phones, computers, tablets, and social media. Sunday’s audience is expected to reach 117 million expected viewers — more than triple the viewership from Super Bowl I, which brought in fewer than 30 million viewers.

Doritos, Budweiser, and Pepsi are a few of the big-name brands that consistently secure ad spots. In 2015, former NBC ad executive Seth Winter said that a Super Bowl ad actually generates $10 million in PR value because of the pre-, during-, and post-game exposure.

Advertisers are in a good position to gain a following from short ads, especially since NFL viewership was up 10% in the regular season, bringing in 17 million viewers per game. With this kind of viewership, it seems like the easy part is cutting a check to secure an ad spot. The hard part will be creating a worthy 30-second experience that will grab fans’ attention.

Come on, how many times did you rewatch Amazon’s Super Bowl ad featuring Michael B. Jordan? Then look at the price of an Amazon Alexa? Be honest.

You have to consider that Super Bowl ads are centered on revenue and opportunity. If businesses are willing to spend $7 million to run an ad, networks will surely charge them that. Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University, told CNN Business that NBC is running roughly 70 Super Bowl ads this year. That could amount to almost $500 million in advertising revenue alone from the game. Last year’s Super Bowl reeled in $434.5 million in ad revenue, Kantar reported. And on the flip side, if companies can cut that big check, they are willing to bet that they can make that back plus more with the exposure Super Bowls bring.

The Growing Cost

The price of a Super Bowl ad has nearly tripled since 2008, when a spot went for $2.7 million, per Fox Business. Ad prices for the Big Game have always been high and continue to increase year-over-year. Going back to Super Bowl I in 1967, a 30-second commercial cost marketers anywhere between $37,000 to $42,000 — adjusted for inflation, that’s between 311,451 and 353,539 today.

Here’s a rundown of the average price of 30-second Super Bowl ads over the last decade, reported by SuperBowl-ads.com:

  • 2012: $3.8 million
  • 2013: $4 million
  • 2014: $4.25 million
  • 2015: $4.8 million
  • 2016: $5.4 million
  • 2017: $5.23 million
  • 2018: $5.2 million
  • 2019: $5.6 million
  • 2020: $5.6 million
  • 2021: $6.5 million

What to Expect on Sunday

The nature of Super Bowl ads is ever-evolving. Look no further, once again, than at the Amazon x Michael B. Jordan ad. The spot didn’t just include a celebrity as most of them do; there was a play on virtual reality to highlight the company’s virtual assistant technology, Alexa.

We can expect to see content aside from the traditional ads from beer, car, and snack companies. Crypto, tech, and metaverse-focused businesses will surely dominate ads in an attempt to attract supporters. Honestly, they are positioned best to do so with the expected incentives for viewers. Crypto.com, FTX, Polestar, and Headspace confirmed that they purchased spots, and FTX said it is giving bitcoin away to viewers for free. We haven’t seen Pepsi or Doritos giving away free products like this. Just saying.

Check out FTX’s teaser:

Here are some other commercials we can look forward to seeing (check out Marketing Dive’s ad tracker for more):

DraftKings is back with its second Super Bowl ad that will air during the first quarter.

Squarespace is back for an eighth consecutive year.

Amazon’s commercial pondering what Alexa would be like if it could read your mind.

Meta’s Super Bowl ad will be about the metaverse, of course, and the company dished out big bucks to grab a 60-second ad slot.

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