In the competitive world of advertising, the Super Bowl emerges as the ultimate battleground where brands vie not only for viewers’ attention but also for their emotional connection.

Regularly attraction over 100 million viewers, the Super Bowl goes beyond being a mere sports event to a cultural powerhouse, providing brands a matchless stage to display their most inventive, captivating, and at times, divisive advertisements. This marketing spectacle is more than a mere match; it’s a display of tactical ingenuity, creativity, and the dynamic bond between brands and consumers.

Delving into the Super Bowl advertising saga, we’ll examine how these vibrant commercials have grown to be as eagerly awaited as the game itself, the strategic shifts in this year’s advertising trends in an environment cautious of controversy, and the financial risks involved in clinching a spot in the advertising roster. Finally, we’ll explain why this year’s ads were so boring (for the most part)

Let’s delve into the grandeur, the tactics, and the narratives behind the commercials that seize the nation’s focus, and what this signifies for the future of brand narrative in the era of the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl Ad Phenomenon

The Super Bowl, the annual championship game of the National Football League (NFL), has grown beyond just sports to become a key event in advertising because it’s the most watched regular event in the US (and second only to the World Cup globally). This makes it an excellent opportunity for brands to reach a large and varied audience.

The Super Bowl grabs the attention of about 1/3rd of the entire population of the US, allowing companies to promote their products on a grand scale.

Super Bowl commercials have changed a lot over time, reflecting changes in what consumers want, advancements in technology, and changes in society. Initially, these ads were simple, just showcasing products or services. However, as more brands competed for viewers’ attention, the need for more creative and engaging ads increased.

This eventually became an arms race of sorts as advertisers pushed to create the most eye-catching and memorable ad of the night. The result was increasingly absurd, crazy, cute, and amusing ads that seemed to get better almost every year.

Now, most Super Bowl ads are complex stories designed to entertain, stir emotions, and sometimes even start discussions on social issues.

Adding celebrities to Super Bowl ads has significantly changed the game, attracting viewers who might not even be interested in football. These endorsements aren’t just about using the celebrity’s fame; they’re about creating lasting memories associated with the brand.

The quality of these ads has also improved, with more money spent on making them look as good as movie productions. This mix of celebrity appeal and high-quality production means Super Bowl commercials are talked about long after the game, extending their reach through social media, news, and conversations.

This year’s Super Bowl advertisements took a careful approach, as advertisers aimed to make a strong impact while avoiding controversy. After facing criticism last year, particularly Bud Light for its collaboration with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, brands have become more cautious.

This has led to more ads featuring celebrities, a reliable way to grab attention without stirring up controversy.

Bud Light sought to win back favor with a light-hearted “Bud Light Genie” ad, starring well-known figures like Peyton Manning and Post Malone, focusing on fun rather than sparking debate.

Similarly, Uber Eats made changes to their ad to prevent offending viewers, especially after feedback on a joke about food allergies.

This year’s advertising trends in the Super Bowl point towards a greater emphasis on being inclusive and careful not to alienate any part of the audience. As a result, the advertisements can be considered to be relatively boring, relying on star power rather than high-quality content.

One stand out was the DoorDash ad. It announced a Super Bowl sweepstakes to deliver a product from every ad shown during the game, regardless of the brand’s participation. This unique campaign, described by Neal Arthur of Wieden+Kennedy, aimed to demonstrate DoorDash’s delivery capabilities creatively, beyond traditional brand storytelling.

Overall, advertisers are paying more attention to societal trends and consumer attitudes, which influence how they create and present their ads. The focus on safe humor, celebrity involvement, and smart use of digital platforms highlights a safe approach to connecting with the wide audience of the Super Bowl.

Financial Aspects of Super Bowl Advertising

The cost of advertising during the Super Bowl is very high, with a 30-second spot in Super Bowl LVIII costing around $7 million, although prices can vary based on factors including how many spots companies buy.

This price is due to the Super Bowl’s huge audience, often over 100 million viewers, giving brands a unique chance to reach a large and varied group of people quickly.

However, this big investment has led to discussions among marketing experts and financial analysts about whether Super Bowl ads are worth the money. Supporters believe that the Super Bowl is an unmatched opportunity for brands to get noticed and share their messages.

Bernd Schmitt, a professor at Columbia Business School focused on branding and advertising, stated:

It gives you bragging rights. Now I can say, ‘Oh we had an ad on the Super Bowl.’ It changes the image. It sounds like you are a major player, a serious player.

Ads that catch on during or after the game can keep benefiting the brand, helping people remember it positively. Super Bowl ads also carry a certain prestige that can make a brand look better and stand out. For example, Dunkin Donut’s Super Bowl ad went viral on X during the game, driving millions more views.

On the other hand, critics argue that spending so much on Super Bowl ads might not be the best use of a company’s marketing budget. They point out that today’s digital and social media advertising allows for more precise targeting and easier measurement of success at a lower cost.

They also say that not all brands will see a direct increase in sales or a clear return on their Super Bowl ad investment, especially if their target customers aren’t typical Super Bowl viewers.

However, companies like Papaya Global (a global workforce payment startup), do not think about a Super Bowl ad as a purely direct lead-generation strategy. Hila Perl, director of communications at Papaya, had this to say:

It’s not so we can sell more. Obviously yes, we want to see a very direct ROI, but we all understand this is a brand-building or a brand awareness play. It’s not a lead-generation play. In my mind, it is always a marathon more than a sprint. It does sometimes require those bigger investments to plan this ahead to see how the vision translates.

David Lee, the chief creative officer at Squarespace, also told TechCrunch that the company ran Super Bowl ads for years in its startup days.

You are trying to make sure that you are relevant; it’s a single silver bullet to put you on a map instantaneously. Everyone has to decide [whether it will] be worth it for that investment; what I would argue is that it’s really just hard to get noticed today.

However, compared to other advertising options, such as digital campaigns that can be tailored very specifically to certain groups of people and whose effectiveness can be measured quickly, Super Bowl ads are a broader approach. Digital ads allow companies to use their marketing budgets more wisely, with a better understanding of how much they’re spending per person reached. This can lead to better results for their investment.

The Bottom Line

Super Bowl commercials are a major investment for companies, offering unmatched exposure but with high costs attached. These advertisements can greatly enhance a company’s image and extend its reach by using famous personalities and high-quality production to attract a wide audience.

However, they come with financial and planning risks. The movement towards careful and inclusive ads mirrors a wider change in the industry towards being more considerate and engaging in today’s digital world. Despite ongoing discussions about their immediate return on investment, Super Bowl ads are still seen as a valuable marketing strategy for companies looking to differentiate themselves in a crowded market.

Businesses need to balance the potential of these ads for building their brand over time with the specific and quantifiable advantages of more targeted digital advertising approaches.