For some, the 50 or so Super Bowl ads are more exciting than the game itself. It’s advertising at its peak: million-dollar budgets, mesmerizing creative, and a hyped-up audience. In 2021, people were talking about the Bud Light Sletzer Lemonade commercial long after the lackluster Tom Brady/Patrick Mahomes matchup — which was, for all intents and purposes, not worth watching to its pitiful conclusion.
During the pandemic shutdown year (2020), CBS opened the bidding at $5.6 million for 30 seconds of Super Bowl ad time. Those ads generated an estimated $485 million in revenue. That’s quite a jump from the first Super Bowl, in 1967, when ads were a comparatively cheap $37,500.
In current dollars? That’s $310,542, a tiny fraction of today’s cost. Super Bowl commercials in 2022 will be, without question, more expensive still, even as the audience shrinks. And this is just for the airtime; production costs can add an additional $750,000. Are those pricey ads worth it?
Companies like Budweiser, Pepsi, Cola-Cola, and even GoDaddy and Hyundai took a pass in 2021. For Budweiser, the largest Anheuser-Busch brand, it was the first time in 37 years they opted out, although there were Bud Light and Michelob Ultra spots. The company allocated a portion of the money it would have spent on its biggest brand to an Ad Council COVID-19 vaccination awareness campaign. Pepsi aired no commercials, although it did sponsor the halftime show.
Will these companies return to their traditional Super Bowl marketing efforts in 2022? The answer is, it depends.
Are Super Bowl Ads Still Relevant?
Super Bowl audiences peaked in 2015, with 114 million viewers. That dipped to 91.6 million viewers in 2021, in line with the general decline in sports viewership around the globe. Of course, COVID-19 took its toll as well, with the prohibition of spectators, as well as schedule changes. But 91.6 million sets of eyes can’t be matched by any other event, sporting or otherwise. Still, the times and priorities are changing. The Super Bowl isn’t the be-all and end-all for companies like Pepsi.
But that doesn’t mean that the Super Bowl has lost its relevance for advertisers. It is, after all, one of the few remaining live audiences. The best part? This audience doesn’t fast-forward through the commercials! In fact, commercials are an anticipated highlight of the Super Bowl experience, and not just for marketing students like the Kellogg Super Bowl Ad Review.
Each year, the Kellogg Super Bowl Ad Review, a panel of 65 MBA students, watches and evaluates Super Bowl ads to determine whether they were good strategic investment for the brand. As reported by founders and marketing professors Derek Rucker and Tim Calkins on the Kellogg School of Management’s blog, “Super Bowl ads are one of the few forms of advertising that consumers report actively looking forward to seeing and discussing.”
They continue, “Super Bowl ads aren’t just watched by faculty with a penchant for advertising, they are widely consumed and discussed by the population at large. Indeed, in most years, the day after the Super Bowl, the news media wants to talk about two things: 1) the game; and 2) the ads.”
The Difficulty of Measuring ROI
There’s more to it, however, than whether the ads are actually watched. Indeed, Rucker admits that although these ads generate business, it’s difficult to calculate a true return. Effective measures will depend on the intent of the marketing campaign.
However, the increased fragmentation of the media makes it somewhat easier to track the effects of a Super Bowl ad. It’s still nearly impossible to tie sales to an ad, but there are other metrics that are leading indicators; for example, there may be an increase in Facebook likes or website traffic.
A Boon for Business
It’s every small-business owner’s dream come true: a free Super Bowl ad. When Mike Brown won a competition for a 30-second 2016 Super Bowl spot, his cult brand, Death Wish Coffee, was instantly introduced to the entire 99 million Super Bowl viewers, plus and estimated 68 million addition people through promotion associated with the ad. The company’s website traffic doubled and sales took off. The company went from seven stores to 150 in less than a year. It has yet to appear in another Super Bowl ad, but it is now a constant on grocery-store shelves.
For a once-small coffee vendor, with practically no money invested, the ROI of a Super Bowl ad was through the roof. But is the same true for established companies like Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, or Pepsi? Is the ROI worth the millions spent on Super Bowl marketing? After all, these companies are already household names.
Here’s what researchers at Stanford and Humboldt Universities found. Super Bowl ads increased revenue by over 10% to 15% per household in the 8 weeks following the broadcast. That’s no small feat. However, if a competitor advertised during the same game, those wins became losses.
For most companies, buying Super Bowl ads wouldn’t be a good idea even at a fraction of the price. Super Bowl ads have massive reach, but if your brand is already well-known, an investment for the sake of greater name recognition may not be worth it. Brands would want to offset the cost of the ad through higher sales. Also, remember that for Super Bowl ads, industry exclusivity is key. Coke, meet Pepsi.
As advertising media continue to segment and consumers continue to cut the cord, there are better ways to reach a targeted audience with a personalized message and long-term strategies.
The Sporting News – Super Bowl Commercials 2021: How Much Does an Ad Cost?
The Street – How Much Do Super Bowl Commercials Cost?
Draft Kings Nation – Budweiser, Coke, Pepsi Pass on Super Bowl Commercials in 2021
Quartz – Is the Cost of a Super Bowl Ad Still Worth it For Advertisers?
The Drum – Even in an Ad Averse World People Still Looking Forward to Seeing Super Bowls Ads
Wall Street Journal – The Return on Investment for 2021 Super Bowl Ads
Inside Kellogg – Kellogg’s Super Bowl Ad Review: Why We Do It, What’s at Stake
CNN Business – How a Free Super Bowl Ad Turned Death Wish Coffee Into a Household Name
Stanford Business – Super Bowl Ads
Stanford Business – Do Super Bowl Ads Really Work?