The big sell: 50 years of Super Bowl advertising - The San Diego Union-Tribune

CBS has said that advertising for this year has topped $5 million, with the average cost of $4.4 million for a Super Bowl ad. For one television spot! As a member of SDX, the San Diego chapter of the American Advertising Federation, January is when I’m frequently asked “is it worth it?” I mean, who can justify spending so much money on one commercial?

ID, Please

Being a Super Bowl advertiser lands you in a very expensive and highly exclusive club. There are mainly two types of advertisers who step up each year to pay the cover charge – the Big Game Baller and the Hopeful Honey.

The Big Game Ballers show up in exotic cars, have the best booths at the club, and are popping bottles all night like money is no object. Everyone knows who they are, and they’re in the club every night. The Big Game Baller is a company typically ranked among the top 200 advertisers, coming close to or eclipsing billions in ad spending each year. You know them well – Budweiser (ABInbev), McDonalds, General Motors, Ford – companies who have rarely missed a Super Bowl advertising opportunity. For these companies, $4 or 5 million is a drop in the champagne bucket when you look at their entire campaign portfolio. And everyone expects the Big Game Baller to be there, night after night, year after year.

The Hopeful Honeys ate ramen for a month and skipped a car payment just so they could afford to pay the cover to get through the door. All they want is to be noticed. Hopeful Honeys wear audacious outfits and do things that are different, taking a gamble they will stand out. The Hopeful Honeys are the companies that throw caution to the wind and hope that airing during the game will suddenly make them a household name. Often these are one and done, and they never return again; this was especially true during the dot-com boom. Because a Hopeful Honey tries to disrupt, sometimes their shocking or controversial content has an adverse affect on their brand reputation.

Let’s not forget who the real winner is in this terrible analogy: the bartender. The game’s broadcaster, who this year is CBS, serves up a highly intoxicating signature cocktail; there is no other live single-day event that can hold a candle to the audience this one game commands. New records have been set year over year for game time views, and reports claim 114.4 million of us tuned in to watch the game that launched Deflate Gate in 2015. Kantar Media has reported that ad revenue from the 2015 Super Bowl was a whopping $345 million, and that prices for Super Bowl ads have gone up 76 percent in the last decade! Now you know why the bartender smiles so much.

The Creative

With discussion focused on how much it costs to run a spot, it’s easy to forget that a commercial needs to be produced. That’s another cool million dollars or more in most cases. But what are the ways advertisers try to catch our attention? In the next post, we’ll have commentary from advertising professionals at SDX and begin looking at the creativity behind Super Bowl advertising, and the categories that have resonated over the past 50 years.


In 1967 a Super Bowl ad cost $42,000. Using the consumer price index calculator from the bureau of labor statistics to adjust for inflation, that’s only $298,446 in today’s “inflated” dollars. So the price of ads has FAR out paced inflation. The cost is 119 times the original cost. This is better than any 401k…how do we get in???

Mike Warburton is the chairman of the board of SDX

Source: Google News Super Bowl Commercials