The Super Bowl: An Evolution of TV Advertising

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The Super Bowl is the most-watched American TV event of the year, with interest in the game’s commercials on a par with what happens on the field.

The more things change…
A lot has changed in the 55-year history of the NFL’s Annual Finals, but a lot has also stayed the same. Advertisers have always been willing to pay premium rates for ads shown during national broadcast. A 30-second in-game spot during the first Super Bowl in 1967 costs $40,000while this same place this year capped at $7 million$1.5 million more than in 2021.

But how and where advertisers secure those spots has slowly evolved, with local ad buys and marketplace sales becoming increasingly important.

Former Milwaukee marketers set the standard for leveraging a local Super Bowl ad buy to gain traction nationally. In the nation’s second-smallest television market, North Platte, NE, Old Milwaukee aired a commercial on two local stations during the 2012 Super Bowl. The ad featured actor Will Ferrell in an incredibly simple and inexpensive to produce. And it only costs $3,000 to stream. Commercial post-game buzz topped nearly every other commercial seen at that year’s game.

The following year, Pabst, the parent company of Old Milwaukee, continued the trend it had established by buying local products again for the 2013 game, using the same combination of inexpensive, unconventional and simple. Again with Ferrell, the one minute announcement broadcast in three of the smaller US TV markets – Glendive, MT; Sherman, Texas; and Ardmore, okay.

Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 saw the delivery of the the world’s first-ever programmatically traded Super Bowl ad. Oreo cookie makers and Ritz Crackers bought the game’s local inventory on WICU-TV in Erie, Pennsylvania, airing two 15-second spots during the local station’s break at the end of halftime. The spots reached a regional audience of approximately 100,000 Super Bowl viewers and again generated national buzz.

Smaller, regional advertisers have long recognized the effectiveness and affordability of buying local spots during the Super Bowl. Thanks to the success of Pabst and others, more and more national brands are also banking on local purchases.

In addition to in-game inventory, local stations in the national markets of both teams participating in the game also produce Super Bowl-related programming before and after the game, including during the two weeks leading up to the game. That goes for local market affiliates whose parent company owns the broadcast rights — this year it’s NBC — but also for stations that won’t air the Super Bowl, but still saturate sports programming with coverage of the home team.

As a result, an extremely attractive local ad inventory with larger than usual audiences is available to transact through TV Marketplaces. Small regional brands can realize huge benefits, as can national brands, even those that have already purchased Super Bowl tickets in-game with the network.

They can create larger campaigns by buying local spots that further extend their Super Bowl reach while taking advantage of more affordable pricing. This combination of versatility, convenience and affordability is one of the reasons TV market transactions continue to grow, accounting for up to $8 billion from $60 billion TV ad market in 2021.

The more things stay the same
Super Bowl viewership has always been massive, growing from just over 40 million for the first Super Bowl in 1967 to a steady average of over 100 million since 2010. These numbers are extremely attractive, leading advertisers to compete financially for limited inventory, driving rates to record highs year after year.

These numbers also push advertisers to compete creatively, hoping each year to produce that ad that will capture the attention and imagination of viewers, transforming the Super Bowl into the advertising showcase it has become. In 1977, this ad was Xerox’s 60-second spot, Monks,

Betty White

(Image credit: Mars)

in 1984, it was Apple’s Macintosh ad aptly titled 1984and in 2010 it was Snickers‘ iconic spot with Betty White and Abe Vigoda. And with a streak spanning 37 years and featuring Clydesdales, puppies and frogs, almost anyone can instantly recall a favorite. Budweiser Super Bowl advertisement.

And that creativity draws in viewers, many of whom see the Super Bowl as the only football game they watch all year. This creates a unique opportunity for advertisers to reach massive audiences, spanning nearly every demographic and unmatched by any other annual TV event.

But the real winners are the local TV stations that can meet the demand for inventory the Super Bowl creates, during, before and after the game, providing efficient and affordable alternatives to million-dollar buys on the network.

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