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7 Million for that?!?
Why Super Bowl Ads Still Matter

The annual festival of advertising has come and gone! No, this isn’t a Clio or Cannes award, but the Super Bowl returned with a bevy of destination ads that battled it out to win the public’s attention in the real ‘big game’ of consumer spending.

In 2022, an average 30-second spot will cost you around 158 Bitcoins (or 7 million USD). Safe to say, the price of attention is getting more and more expensive. The same 30 seconds cost a meager 5.5 million in 2021, AND – last year’s Super Bowl had the lowest ratings in 14 years. Wait – yes, you read that right. Fewer people watched it last year, and it’s 27% more expensive. Oh – and people hate advertising, remember?

So what’s going on here?

What the Super Bowl ‘is’ and how advertising surrounds it has been changing, especially across the last decade or so. Let’s unpack that here from the perspective of 3 milestone evolutions in what a Super Bowl ad is.


It Started with Apple (Surprise, Surprise)

Before the 1984 Apple ad, Super Bowl commercials were simply just more expensive as the game’s higher than average viewership was the main value driver. The era of ultra-expensive, ‘better than your average ad’ Super Bowl commercials began.


Oreo Blacked Out

In 2013, the Super Bowl was interrupted by a lighting failure, in which a large portion of the New Orleans Superdome blacked out, halting the game for about 30 minutes. It was here that the ‘Oreo Moment’ was born, and brands rushed into the RTM (Real Time Marketing) space that social media provided. The kicker (pun intended) here is that the most memorable ad from this Super Bowl was not a TV commercial but a single tweet conceived of on the spot. The ad game had changed, and it went down on your phone, within a social network like Twitter.


The Digital Dunk

In 2016, the Super Bowl ad left TV altogether, with a Gatorade Snapchat filter promoted by Serena Williams. The AR filter allowed users to give themselves the quintessential Gatorade “dunk,” in which the victorious coach is showered in Gatorade and ice unexpectedly. At the time, the use of a national, branded filter ran about $350K on non-Super Bowl days, so although the actual cost was not publicly released, you can imagine how pricey the Gatorade filter likely was. However, there were surely no regrets as the AR dunk gathered over 160 million impressions, easily giving any broadcast ad a run for their money in terms of viewership. And for the first time – a Super Bowl ad was participatory.


Pop Culture Meets Consumer Brand Sentiment

The Super Bowl has become far more of a cultural touchpoint than simply a championship football game. It is now an event where pop culture crossovers and consumer brand sentiment is smashed together under the banner of the NFL, and brands that choose to participate are gaining access to a lot more than merely 30 seconds of airtime.

The Super Bowl commercial of today features cinematic release aspects such as trailers, are often pre-released online during the week leading up to the game, enjoy their moment live and then take in a nice, long sunset as marketers break them down and unpack consumer sentiment for days after. It’s become a lot like the advertising Olympics, a 2-week blitz where ad steroid use is encouraged, if not absolutely needed, in order to compete. We are seeing a system that ties together traditional advertising, social media and other digital activations, all for the purpose of extending into a cable TV property.


It’s become a lot like the advertising Olympics, a 2-week blitz where ad steroid use is encouraged, if not absolutely needed, in order to compete.


Before setting up some examples of 2022 Super Bowl ads, let’s nibble on a key stat that provides important context.

Over the past five years, there has been a 45% decline of live TV viewers under the age of 50. This comes as a surprise to absolutely no one and sets the tone for Nostalgia as a Super Bowl ad theme.


Celebrity Throwbacks with Planet Fitness

Nostalgia is front and center in this 2022 spot for Planet Fitness featuring Lindsay Lohan and an array of celebrity throwbacks from the ’90s and early 2000s. Nostalgia (“Oh hey, it’s them! Remember them? I love them!”) is the glue that connects these disparate scenes and surrounds the Planet Fitness brand like a familiar friend.


We Can Always Count on Doritos to “Push It”

The 2022 Doritos spot puts a spin on Nostalgia – with the concept of NEWstalgia. This ad features a sound effects-based reboot of the 80’s hit “Push it” by Salt N’ Pepa, except this time, an eclectic collection of wild animals performs it. It doesn’t matter why, as long as you like the song.

Both of these ads hit Gen X’ers (and probably a Boomer of two) where it counts, right in the feels, by connecting those sentiments directly to brands. That’s the play, and it works.


Innovation is Key

By now, we’ve demonstrated how the Super Bowl has become a cultural touchpoint that brands participate in, before, during, and after. This final example is much more innovative and involved for the consumer as it extends into digital and lifestyle. Here’s how:

This Nike x Electronic Arts partnership allows users of the Nike Run Club app to log a 5K run during the week leading up to the Super Bowl that unlocks an exclusive defensive NFL player, Aaron Donald, in the Madden 22 video game with a +7 speed advantage. This “ad” ticks many boxes for Gen Z and Millennial audiences by being so innately participatory and directly rewarding with a give-back.

What an ad is and how audiences consume it is changing, just as the Super Bowl itself has changed and grown over the decades. TV ad content is no longer the sole differentiator across demographics, behaviors and beliefs, but the digital platforms themselves, aligned to specific audiences, are all recruited now, as well. For example, social media is necessary to engage the age group that is more likely to be staring at their phone when a TV commercial comes on during the game. The function of advertising continues to evolve, and there is no bigger stage, no greater pan-audience event than the Super Bowl to showcase that.


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Further Reading
The CULT of Customer Experience
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