On Super Bowl Sunday every year, much of America tunes in to watch the big game. It’s become a major partying event: for the past five years, on average, 11 million viewers watched the Super Bowl away from their homes — and the trend is growing.
But for many viewers, the game and halftime show is less important and entertaining than the commercials.
And for that reason, commercial airtime during the games is among the most highly valued. For many years, viewers have watched the Super Bowl as much for the commercials as for the ultimate football championship for the year. This year, advertisers are being charged between $4.8 million and $5 million for 30-second spots on CBS during the Super Bowl.
Some of the most iconic commercials have aired for the first (and sometimes only) time during the Super Bowl, such as:
“Mean” Joe Greene (1979)
Apple’s Macintosh (1984)
McDonald’s’ Larry Bird vs. Michael Jordan (1993)
The Budweiser Frogs (1995)
Snickers’ Betty White tackle (2010)
Volkswagen’s “The Force” (2011)
Snickers’ “Brady Bunch” reboot (2015)
Of course, there have been a number of really bad commercials during the Super Bowl as well.
These generally have been commercials that were poorly put together, employed offensive stereotypes or racist messages, or carried images of suffering and death — not what Super Bowl viewers (or anyone else) care to see.
While some of the most sophisticated special effects appear in Super Bowl commercials, other commercials are noted for simplicity and sensitivity. This year, perhaps in response to the backlash against the Oscars, the commercials will include persons from a variety of ethnicities, age ranges, and sexual orientations.
Curiously, Super Bowl commercials don’t seem to have much “effectiveness”; that is, they don’t result in bigger bottom lines for their advertisers. According to a study by Genesis Media, “nearly 90 percent of respondents said that they were unlikely to buy something tied to a Super Bowl ad; and roughly 75 percent of respondents said they couldn’t remember ads from last year.” In 2014, a study determined that 80 percent of the ads run during the 2012 and 2013 Super Bowls didn’t result in increased sales volume for the advertisers.
One of the reasons may be that in most Super Bowl commercials, emphasis is placed on the “creativity” of the ad’s message or special effects, rather than the brand or product. Another reason, according to the Genesis Media study, is that 33 percent of viewers spend commercial breaks using their mobile devices rather than watching television.
Super Bowl commercials seem to be “effective” when the products involved are new and the advertisers are not well known — even when they are offensive, such as the GoDaddy ads that ran between 2005 and 2012. According to marketing website Marketing Land, “Sleazy though they were, GoDaddy’s several years of Super Bowl advertising helped establish massive awareness for the company’s brand. In fact it’s very hard for the public to name another domain registrar. And last year Super Bowl ads helped to start changing the company’s image.”
Which is exactly what every company that advertises during the Super Bowl is out to do.