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Super Bowl Commercials & Why We Love Them

While we love the actual game, we also watch for the super ads

The Super Bowl is an unofficial national holiday affectionately entitled “Super Sunday.”

It is also the biggest food production day in the food retail business. One in every six televisions is bought just prior to the game. Snack companies increase production of potato and tortilla chips in anticipation of higher sales. Pizza delivery companies hire more drivers and sell more pies than at any other time of the year. The big game sends sales of beer, soda, chips, guacamole and salsa through the roof.

Super Sunday is the third largest alcohol consumption celebration behind New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day. One in four workers will participate in a game pool while Super Sunday weekend is the slowest for wedding bookings.

The Super Bowl decides the champion of the NFL, and also the champions of the advertising universe. Inasmuch as the Super Bowl has created a mass gathering either in sports bars or at household gatherings, this splendid festival generates just as much interest in the commercials as it does the actual game itself.

Basically, the Super Bowl is the most influential amphitheater in TV promotion. In the world of advertising it is viewed as judgment day. New ad campaigns often begin their kickoff airing during the game.

Three of the four networks that carry the NFL broadcasts--CBS, Fox and NBC--alternate as host of the Super Bowl each year.

CBS will broadcast Super Bowl LIII this year, and has announced the cost for each 30 second commercial spot averages $5.2 million.

Why the Super Bowl?

This one broadcast annually ranks among the highest Nielsen ratings, reaching more than 90 million people worldwide. Of the Top 25 shows of all time in the United States, 17 are Super Bowls.

Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos in 2014 became the third most watched television broadcast of all time only behind the Apollo 11 splashdown in 1969 and coverage of Desert Storm in 1991. The game reached 112.2 million in the United States alone. For the first time, FOX streamed the coverage online allowing consumers the option to see the game on tablets, laptops and PCs; plus had a deal with Verizon Wireless where their customers could watch on their phones.

Apple’s “1984” ad

These figures have outdone the Olympics, President Nixon’s resignation speech, the mini-series “Roots”, “American Idol,” Ali vs. Spinks boxing match, the Royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana, the O. J. Simpson murder trial,. Apollo 13 splashdown, the World Cup, and final episodes of “M*A*S*H”, “Friends”, “I Love Lucy”, “Oprah,” “Seinfeld”, “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “Dallas.”

Just a few years ago with Super Bowl XLIV between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts, a 30-second spot netted $2.6 million. This year, CBS is charging an average of $5.2 million.

With the high cost, viewers are guaranteed that the commercials will be creative and interesting. Even before the opening kickoff, there is a lot of anticipation about the innovation and humor that the commercials will create. After the game, numerous sports-related websites post the commercials and even write reviews of the best—and the worst.

The price tag only includes advertising on whichever American network the game is telecast on. With foreign venues, those networks sell their own advertising time and are usually just a fraction of the rates for the North American region. And the cost of the commercials does not include the funds needed for the ad agencies, script writers, actors, equipment, director and crew in order to produce the final product.

For advertisers, the need is to scale the communication and make certain that the product’s ideas are sending enough exposure for the high-priced message to have some basis of accomplishment. And at the same time, advertisers need to form a bond with consumers. This enables a dedication factor to the brand names as well; especially when dealing with choosing, say, a cola brand.

Critics of the high-dollar commercial time point to modern advantages for consumers to record the game thus have the ability to fast-forward past the ads. However, survey data states that viewers who record the game in any form are actually rewinding the commercials in order to watch them over-and-over.

The Super Bowl stage is important to advertisers. It is viewed as the foremost program to create product awareness, unveil big news, to speed up sales of a service or product, or to simply remind folks that their product is still around.

What is unusual about the Super Bowl broadcast is that it was created on the premise that the primary audience would be watching the game on television.

This Year’s Advertisers

Everyone expects the beverage and food companies to advertise at the Super Bowl, and this year is no exception.

Expect to see multiple commercials from Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Stella, Budweiser and Viv Spiked Seltzer on the alcoholic spectrum, with Pepsi introducing their new sparkling water brand “Bubly” featuring singer Michael Buble along with other Pepsi brand drinks.

One Bud commercial features the fabled Clydesdales pulling the iconic Budweiser beer wagon complete with their Dalmatian sidekick.

As for the food industry, Avocados from Mexico is always a staple and this year features singing dogs and Kristin Chenoweth. Burger King uses their “King” mascot in their spot, while Doritos is bringing back the Backstreet Boys. M&M candies, Pringle’s chips and Planters peanuts are back again this year.

Auto manufacturers include Audi’s new electric car the E-Tron, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota. The Hyundai commercial is a 60-second spot with actor Jason Bateman as an elevator operator taking people to various levels of Hell. After folks are dropped off at the dentist and vegan parties, the car buyers are elevated to wondrous car buying level.

Other commercials include WeatherTech, Colgate toothpaste, Turkish Airlines, Expensify, Verizon Wireless, Disney, Persil ProClean, SimpliSafe, TurboTax plus the NFL itself in a 90-second spot.

New advertisers this year include Olay beauty products, the dating app Bumble (featuring Serena Williams), and the frozen-food brand Devour.

Several advertisers were denied spots for this year’s game or simply opted out during the game itself.

Backstreet Boys for Doritos 2019

Acreage Holdings, which has several medical marijuana facilities in multiple states, wanted to sponsor a commercial touting the legalization of medical marijuana in every state. Coca-Cola originally had bought ad space during the game but has since opted for a spot just prior to kickoff. The worldwide soda company had been a game sponsor for 11 years prior to this year’s decision, which will be a 60-second spot featuring animated characters.

Advertisers Past

The very first AFL-NFL World Championship Game, later renamed Super Bowl I, was played in January of 1967 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Calif. The game pitted the NFL Champion Green Bay Packers against the AFL Champion Kansas City Chiefs.

The competition was attended by 63,036 fans with over 32,000 empty seats despite tickets only $12. At that time, it was not customary for fans to travel to a neutral site for a game.

NBC had the AFL rights while CBS was the NFL’s lone carrier. Both networks wanted exclusive rights to broadcast the game, but it was decided to have both cover the contest. Each network furiously promoted the game in the weeks leading up to the game in order to outdo the other for future clients.

CBS charged $85,000 for each 60-second spot whereas NBC netted $75,000 per ad. Advertisers were Dodge, RCA, Haggar, Ford, McDonald’s, Goodyear, American Airlines, U. S. Savings Bonds and several cigarette brands: Salem, Tareyton, Winston and Lark.

Also present were the beer ads, however, the humor that is a mainstay today wasn’t present. Busch’s commercial revealed their beer’s secret ingredient—patience. Schaefer beer anointed itself “the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.”

Super Bowl II saw a 68% market share with 39.12 million viewers with CBS the lone broadcast provider. Many of the first Super Bowl’s advertisers returned along with TWA Airlines, Metropolitan Life Insurance, United Airlines and Plymouth.

In Super Bowl VI between the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins, Coca-Cola made advertising history with music. 400 multi-cultural young people were perched on a hilltop singing “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony…I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.”

The very first famous Super bowl commercial appeared in 1973. Weeks leading up to the big game, Noxema offered viewers the opportunity to see Joe Namath get creamed during the game, and as promised, Broadway Joe did just that. With the first scene an extremely beautiful, blonde woman tells the viewing audience to watch Namath get creamed, and then cuts to him as he rubs a new creamy shaving lather on his face. As the woman sings a jingle about “Let Noxema cream your face,” Namath is shown shaving, smiling and being charismatic Joe Namath.

Super Bowl XXXIV between the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans in 2000 has become coined the “ bowl.” Out of the 36 advertisers, 17 were hopefuls. Many of these companies have since folded or drastically downsized, but and have flourished.

Prices for Super Bowl ads didn’t cross the million dollar mark until 1995, and five years later commercial space topped $2 million.

Ingredients for a Successful Super Bowl Commercial

Because the game of football is not the only reason we watch the Super Bowl, advertisers have to involve certain elements in order to make their commercial successful and memorable.

In recent years, the game itself has been a close encounter often coming down to the last series of downs before a winner was crowned. But, in earlier contests, the game was often known as a boring lopsided affair that was usually over before the second half kickoff.

So advertisers need to have their best game face on while constructing their commercials. And advertisers need customers. The more customers they entice, the broader opportunities for additional business.

To have a great Super Bowl commercial, the quintessential ingredient is a great product. The second most important aspect is the art of being memorable. This is usually accomplished in several ways; the most common are by using humor, inserting heart or adding sex appeal. 30 seconds is not a lot of time to capture your audience, so it needs that zip to drive the message home.

Usually, it is best to incorporate only one of these aspects into the message, or an advertiser can just use all three similar to’s tactics and hope it works.

Successful Super Bowl Ads

The hit-your-heart Super Bowl ads are effective. Who doesn’t remember Mean Joe Greene of the Steelers limping in the tunnel when a sympathetic kid gives him his ice cold Coca-Cola? Or in 2002 with the Clydesdales pull the Budweiser wagon so elegantly across the Brooklyn Bridge, stop and then bow in reverence to the 9-11 tragedy.

Humor has ruled Super Bowl commercials. Whether its Larry Bird and Michael Jordan playing a game of horse for McDonald’s, or a mosquito who explodes after sucking blood from a guy eating pizza laced with Tobasco sauce, or to monks who use Xerox copiers to make multiple sets of their manuscripts.

For whatever reasons, the beer brands have entertained us more than any other products.

Miller Lite used a fountain to stage a scantily-clad catfight to express whether great taste or less filling is the correct answer. The Steelers Troy Polamalu is involved in a takeoff of the Mean Joe Greene ad when in 2009 he is seen tackling two Coke Zero ad executives. 1995 brought in the Budweiser frogs “Bud,” “Weis,” and “Er” and were an instant hit for years.

The Budweiser commercial that featured a streaking naked sheep during a Clydesdale football game in 2006 was voted best Super Bowl commercial ever.

One of the most famous ads was for Reebok in 2005. Terry Tate office linebacker’s job in the spot is to increase productivity in the workplace. Unfortunately for office personnel, his tactics are to inflict pain with violent tackles and forearm hits.

And with all Super Bowl ads, as Terry Tate would say, “When its game time, its pain time.”

Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association.