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An update: Super Bowl ads - are they still relevant and who watches them anyway?

Updated: Jan 23, 2020

by Sabrina Colafabio

The largest sporting event in the U.S. is upon us and whether we’re football fans or not, at some point, we’ve tuned in to the big game for either the ads or the half-time show. Turns out, we’re not alone. Over 100 million Americans tune in for the Super Bowl every year and about 25% of those viewers watch the game solely for the commercials[1].


Now given these numbers, you can understand why companies are prepared to pay $5 million for a 30-second spot. Some buy several runs, and some pay a premium for a 45 second or 60 second spot. The question remains, is it worth it?


With Super Bowl viewership down over the last few years, this must be a tough decision for marketers. However, one thing remains true, despite the drop in viewership, having the means and the talent to put-up a quality ad for the Super Bowl buys clout, and there is a value to that, at least, that’s what most of these brands believe.[2]


How have the ads evolved?


With so much at stake, brands have stepped it up, ensuring more bang for their buck. Over the years, most brands have begun taking a multi-channel approach to their “Super Bowl ad”. The biggest names are not just looking to create the most engaging 30 second ad on game day, but also feature a quality teaser ad on YouTube weeks before. They also create targeted digital ads for very specific communities and target markets. They engage would-be consumers in competitions, fun quizzes, several chapters to their ad and with giveaways. They follow that up with end-of-game tactics for a full A to Z approach to getting consumers to buy.


Some companies are taking a different approach to their Super Bowl ad space. They’re using their 30 seconds to spread a public service message that may resonate with viewers but one that speaks to their brand. Some of the messages will be about inclusion or taking a political/social stance. It’s risky, and in a time when even football (and the right to take a knee during the anthem, we can recall) has managed to divide Americans, there’s a lot at stake.


A couple of years ago, Budweiser, known for it’s often sexist ads took a 180 and portrayed the story of immigrant co-founder Adolphus Busch and his plight trying to make it in America. Met with mixed reviews and a trending hashtag to boycott the brand, it was a far cry for the typical beer ad we’ve become so used to[3].


So here are the brands we’re looking out for that are using this ad space to try shake things up?[4]

Look out for Cheetos who is running its first Super Bowl ad in 10 years. It will star MC Hammer and his famous, “U Can’t touch this” anthem for it’s 30 second spot, including teaser videos shared now on YouTube.


If you were looking for a reprieve from politics, sadly, it won’t be in the Super Bowl commercials. Both Michael Bloomberg, Democratic candidate and President Donald Trump have reportedly bought ad space. Both have bought 60 second slots at a cost of $10 M each to try to drum-up popularity. Details on the ads at this time are scarce.


Sabra, a Pepsi-co brand is running a game-within-the-game ad where consumers, throughout January, can scan QR codes on Sabra purchased products and enter to win one of five $100K prizes. The winner will be announced during their Super Bowl ad on game day.


Olay is making its second appearance and will have an all-female cast for its ad which centers on “girls who code” to encourage girls to get interested in science. Through Feb 3, they will donate $1 to the organisation for every tweet that mentions #MakeSpaceForWomen and @Olayskin.


There are also many first-time Super Bowl ads for brands like Facebook, Pop-Tarts, Porsche, New York Life and Coca-Cola, who took a 2019 hiatus, will be returning this year with a 60 second commercial spot.


Debating the true value of this type of ad spend is one that likely happens yearly for these brands; however one thing is for sure, watching all this creativity unfold is what marketing dreams are made of.



[1] Ray, Sean (2016, February 4). Essential Pittsburgh. How Super Bowl Ads have evolved over 50 years. https://www.wesa.fm/post/how-super-bowl-ads-have-evolved-over-50-years


[2] Spross, Jeff (2018, February 2). The Week. Are Super Bowl Ads really worth $5 million? https://theweek.com/articles/752440/are-super-bowl-ads-really-worth-5-million


[3] St. Louis, Molly (2018, October 11). AdWeek. 6 Socially charged ads that caused a stir. https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/5-socially-charged-ads-that-caused-a-stir/


[4] Marketing Dive Team (2020, January 17). Super Bowl LIV: Tracking every ad for 2020’s big game. https://www.marketingdive.com/news/super-bowl-LIV-2020-ad-tracker/568839/

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