Commercials aired during the Super Bowl have the power to entertain, inform and endear us, and through the years, some have left indelible images in our minds.
Many viewers will remember the touching 1979 Super Bowl ad when a boy sees a clearly exhausted Joe Greene of the Pittsburgh Steelers walking to the locker room. The child offers Greene his bottle of Coca-Cola, which Greene guzzles. As the boy walks away, Greene calls to him. “Hey kid, catch,” he says, before tossing his game-worn jersey the child’s way.
Or the Budweiser commercial that aired in February 2002 during the first Super Bowl after the 9/11 attacks. The famed Budweiser Clydesdales are shown traveling from rural America to New York City, where they take a bow while looking at the permanently changed skyline, a tribute toward the lives lost. It appeared on television only that one time.
Or the 2011 commercial from Volkswagen in which a child dressed as Darth Vader tries to force their will on household objects and even the family dog. As the child approaches the family car, the parents decide to play along, flashing the lights of their Passat via their key fob to the shock of the youngster.
Super Bowl ads are multimillion-dollar endeavors in terms of airtime and production and can set the tone for a company – and make or break careers on Madison Avenue depending on whether the ad gets positive or negative reviews from potential customers.
“It’s like Open Mic Night. Everybody wants to get up and wow the crowd. But you better wow the crowd. Or you’ll get the hook,” Ernest Lupinacci, a brand consultant and creative director, told Front Office Sports this month. “You’re either going to bring down the house. Or get booed off the stage.”
Just how did Super Bowl commercials become such a big deal? Why are companies willing to pay as much as $7 million for 30 seconds of airtime? And what are expected to be the memorable ads to come out of Super Bowl LVII, when the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles clash.
In Super Bowl I on Jan. 15, 1967, the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.
The game was broadcast on two networks and averaged 26.75 million viewers on CBS and 24.4 million on NBC, Nielsen reported.
Each ad cost $42,000, which translates to almost $380,000 in today’s money, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator. Commercials for Super Bowl LVII will cost nearly 20 times the inflation-adjusted rate.
The cost of a Super Bowl commercial didn’t go over $100,000 until Super Bowl VIII in 1974, when the Miami Dolphins beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-7.
A 30-second spot cost $103,500 (about $660,000 today), and the game posted a household rating of 41.6, with total viewership of 63.2 million.
The highest-rated Super Bowl of all time came in 1982 when the San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21.
The game drew a record rating of 49.1, with 110.23 million viewers. A 30-second spot was $324,300 — $1.02 million today.
It’s the high ratings numbers that keep advertisers coming back. Not only are they reaching millions of people with an ad for their product, but advertising in the year’s biggest event gives them credibility with consumers.
“If you’re in business with the NFL and you’re advertising during the Super Bowl, you’re a real player,” Patrick Crakes, a former Fox Sports executive turned media consultant, told CNN in 2022.
The cost of Super Bowl ads crossed another threshold at Super Bowl XXIX between the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers on Jan. 29, 1995.
The price for a 30-second ad hit the $1 million mark for the first time, costing $1.15 million ($2.27 million today). Despite the blowout score — the 49ers won 49-26 — the game drew a solid 41.3 rating.
The price of a 30-second ad took off from there, and it has cost more than $5 million for each commercial since Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5, 2017.
The Chiefs’ win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2, 2020, drew $5.6 million per ad.
Regular TV Commercial Costs
The cost of a Super Bowl ad has done more than outpace inflation. But in general, the cost of TV commercials is plenty high.
According to a 2022 report from Fit Small Business, the average cost of a 30-second TV ad on a national network is $104,700.
You might shake your head at how expensive Super Bowl commercials are, but it’s also wise to remember that the game (and the halftime, and the ads) regularly rank among the highest-rated and most-watched shows on TV.
The Chiefs’ win over the 49ers in Super Bowl LV in 2020 drew 102.1 million viewers, making it the 11th-most-watched show in TV history. Of the 10 shows ranked above it, only the 1983 final episode of M*A*S*H* — ranked ninth overall with 106 million viewers — was not a Super Bowl.
Plus, with viewers able to watch ads again and again through YouTube and company websites and social media, ads today have staying power.
The Volkswagen Star Wars-inspired spot, for example, drew nearly 40 million views on YouTube within the first few months after the Super Bowl. It was such a hit that Volkswagen re-filmed it for a United Kingdom audience with a European version of the Passat, Carscoops reported.
In the past few years, some companies have started leaking their ads in advance of the Super Bowl. According to early reviews, ones to watch for include Heineken’s ad for its 0% beer, featuring Paul Rudd; singer Meghan Trainor struggling with a Pringles can and sharing her struggles on TikTok; and a commercial from FanDuel in which retired tight-end Rob Gronkowski tries to kick a field goal at the end. Live.
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George Malone contributed to the reporting for this article.