With the start of the new year, agencies and marketers have something big to look forward to: The Super Bowl on Feb. 4. The playoffs to decide who will face off in the big game began Saturday, Jan. 6; but the action off the field has been on for a while, with marketers and their agencies jockeying for TV time and creativity in what is, well, the Super Bowl of Advertising.
According to Nielsen, 111.3 million people watched the game last year, which makes it one of the few opportunities to reach an audience of that magnitude left on television. That’s quite a bright spot for broadcasters at a time when streaming video and premium cable are shrinking their audience.
The Feb 4 broadcast on NBC is expected to generate more than $1 billion in advertising revenue, and that’s just on the TV show, which is expected to command a whopping $5 million for a 30-second spot. So before the first kickoff, let’s take a look at how Super Bowl advertising has evolved over the last half-century.
When the first game was televised in 1967, it was hardly the event it is today. In fact, there are no recordings and no record of which companies advertised. Things had changed a bit seven years later. Broadway Joe Namath, the New York Jets’ flashy, media-friendly quarterback, was one of a breed of sports stars that helped fuel the game’s advertising wattage. During Super Bowl VII, fans could watch Namath get creamed, but only off the field, in an ad for shaving cream.
As the game gained a national audience, more advertisers made the broadcast a key part of their media plan. In 1974, Master Lock was one of the first advertisers to go all-in and spend most of its TV budget on the broadcast. It would continue the relationship for 21 consecutive Super Bowls.
The modern age of Super Bowl advertising began in 1984, when Apple launched its new Macintosh computer with the “1984” spot by film director Ridley Scott, which many experts still consider the best Super Bowl spot of all time, and one of the best TV commercials ever. This unleashed an arms race between ad agencies to make bigger, flashier productions for the Super Bowl and established the broadcast as a launching point for new campaigns.
In 1999, digital disruption came to the Super Bowl, with new online companies spending lavishly to build their names. Pets.com’s iconic sock puppet mascot was everywhere and jobs board Monster.com won votes for the best spot of the game and later won awards as the best of the year.
In February 2000, as the online boom peaked, the big game became known as the “Dot-Com Bowl,” where startups burned through their backers’ money and pushed ad prices to record highs. The tech bubble would burst shortly after the game, and many advertisers were not around to see the next Super Bowl, where E-Trade made light of the dot-bust by spoofing mascots like the Pets.com sock puppet and nonsensical websites.
Two years later, the mood had changed; only a few months after the 9/11 attacks, advertisers in the 2002 game had to settle into a “new normal” and strike a balance between the game’s hoopla and the somber national mood. Budweiser, a longtime advertiser, drafted its iconic Clydesdales.
As social media began to edge out traditional channels, advertisers have begun finding new ways to amplify their Super Bowl presence by previewing spots online, running parallel promotions and live tweeting to fans. When an electrical snafu left Super Bowl XLVII in the dark for more than a half-hour, marketers that had prepared to live-tweet filled in the dead air with their messages, most notably Mondelez, which won the game with its dead-on real-time marketing.
After the divisiveness of the 2016 election, advertising on Super Bowl LI was not immune to the national mood. A number of advertisers made direct messages targeting diversity and immigration after a campaign that made both lightning-rod issues. Coca-Cola had one of the most striking ads of the game by reinterpreting a classic.
Watch this year’s Super Bowl and let us know what you think of this year’s ads. Tweet us @VelocitizePub!