This Sunday (Feb. 7) marks the 50th Super Bowl since the rival American Football League and National Football League agreed to a playoff championship game in the winter of early 1967. As the resultant NFL has grown into one of the most popular professional sporting organizations on the planet, so too has a culture of spending top dollar on 60- or even 30-second TV spots during the big game.
But is dropping millions upon millions of dollars a sound business decision in a world where consumers demand constant engagement?
That question has only recently become one that brands are being forced to answer. Advertising Age reported that the cost of one second of Super Bowl TV advertising during the inaugural 1967 event ran about $1,333. By 1988, the figure had risen to $20,000, and it doubled again by 1997 to $40,000 — making a 30-second spot about frogs croaking “Budweiser” cost about $1.2 million.
However, the years since have seen a steep, near-exponential climb in rates set by cable networks enjoying ever-rising viewership for the big game. For Super Bowl 50, brands have had to pay rates of approximately $160,000 per second — clocking a single showing of a full 60-second spot at $9.5 million.
In fact, of the total $4.5 billion spent throughout the history of Super Bowl TV advertising, 45.2 percent of it has been spent in the last six years. Naturally, this has led some brands to question whether their money is best spent on a half-minute of exposure, especially when their ads are sandwiched in between other commercials and a little football game that makes it impossible to maintain any kind of engagement. To this end, some brands are turning away from the powerful inertia of the traditional medium of television in favor of some cheaper, though no less effective, modern media methods.
Adweek reported that social media influencers are seeing a flurry of activity from brands for Super Bowl 50, most notably because of their wide reach and relative bargain compared to commercials. Nick Cicero, founder and CEO of social media marketing agency Delmondo, explained that $5 million from a brand can be worth anywhere from 100 to 200 social media influencers depending on their follower counts and platform. It’s also important to note that Snapchat takeovers, a series of Instagram posts and other content enjoys its own free space on audiences’ second screens. When it’s time for the commercials to end and the action on the gridiron to start back up, the diehard fans might turn their attentions to the TV, while the casual ones see what other content is waiting for them with the game in the background.
“People will overwhelmingly spend time on two screens during Super Bowl 50 — their TV and their smartphone,” Leslie Fine, vice president of product for predictive intelligence and analytics at Salesforce, told Adweek. “Marketers that understand how and where their audiences will be interacting during the game will have the best chance to break through the noise and get in front of the right people at the right moment.”
As digital and traditional media struggle to see who gets to rule advertising for Super Bowl 100, some brands in 2016 have found cost-effective ways to maximize their investments in TV spots, while maintaining some longer forms of engagement with their viewers. Doritos has made something of an unofficial tradition out of its Super Bowl TV ads; instead of going the normal route and hiring out an agency to produce a multi-million dollar celebrity-studded commercial, the chip brand has, for the past several years, solicited fully produced spots from the public. Not only does Doritos receive dozens of commercials good enough to host on its website for viewing before and after the Super Bowl, but it engenders a competition among people who may not even be big fans to engage with Doritos for a shot at 15 seconds of fame — a much better use of tens of millions of advertising dollars.
However, Fortune reported that 2016 will mark the last year Doritos and Pepsi employ this style of consumer-generated content for the Super Bowl. Citing increased legal costs from fan-created content copyright issues and scant savings compared to traditional ads when all promotional work is said and done, the companies plan to take their Super Bowl budgets elsewhere.
Whether that’s back to the tried-and-true option of multi-million dollar commercials during the first half of Super Bowl 51 or ahead into the great unknown of social media marketing, not even the sportsbooks of the biggest Vegas casinos could predict.