How the Super Bowl Became the Championship of Advertising

Every year as the Super Bowl approaches, I find myself getting excited for the advertising to come. There have been years where I haven’t cared about either team playing and have watched the Super Bowl just to see the commercials (I am not alone in that. Around 20 percent of viewers tune in only for the commercials.). With Super Bowl LV right around the corner, I can’t help but wonder, how did the Super Bowl become the championship of advertising?

In 2020, advertisers had to pay 5.6 million U.S. dollars to air a 30-second long commercial during the Super Bowl LIV broadcast (Statista). That may seem like a crazy figure, but the number of people advertisers are able to reach in those 30 seconds, is worth it to businesses who can afford the heavy price tag.

Social media has helped Super Bowl commercials become a phenomenon. A 2020 survey revealed that 79 percent of viewers see the commercials as entertainment, while almost 71 percent stated that they enjoyed watching the commercials. It also seems the viewers will go to some lengths to see these commercials beyond their original air date during the big game. During the 2019 Super Bowl, consumers spent 641 thousand hours watching Super Bowl ads on YouTube, representing a 58 percent increase over the previous year.

While the majority of small and medium sized businesses cannot afford a Super Bowl commercial, it’s still fun to understand how the Super Bowl has become, what is considered, the championship of advertising.

First Super Bowl

The first Super Bowl occurred on January 15, 1967 in Los Angeles, CA. During that time, the game’s broadcast was blacked out in the host city. The broadcast was not nationwide until 1972.

Advertising in 1967 was very different than it is today.“This flat tire needs a man,” the Goodyear Tire narrator declared in one spot that aired during that first national championship game between the established National Football League and the up-and-coming American Football League.

This commercial featured a damsel in distress stranded roadside after her car’s tire blows. Because the shadowy cover of night was no place for a single gal to linger, the woman wraps her coat protectively tight and seeks a payphone, presumably to call a burly man to get her out of the situation. “When there’s no man around, Goodyear should be,” the commercial crowed, plugging the company’s Double Edge Tire (“A Tire in a Tire!”).

That the ad was playing for the men in the room is not so surprising. Before the Super Bowl was even officially called the Super Bowl, the AFL-NFL World Championship Game in 1967 hinted at how the game was to be sold to the public going forward. “They weren’t really expecting women to watch,” says Danielle Sarver Coombs, an associate professor at Kent State University, who specializes in sports fandom.

First Noteworthy Super Bowl Commercial

Six years after the first Super Bowl, in 1973, advertisers managed to crack the Super Bowl commercial formula. That year, in a 30-second ad spot that cost $42,000, football player Joe Namath and Charlie’s Angels star Farrah Fawcett lent their endorsement to Noxzema Shave Cream, with the catch line “Let Noxzema cream your face”.

Spearheaded by the Madison Avenue ad men, who have since become immortalized by the TV show Mad Men, the commercial was a blowout success that took American living rooms by storm. “I’m so excited, I’m gonna get creamed,” declares Namath, before Fawcett sensually slathers his face with the shave cream product.

This near-seamless blend of football slang and sexual innuendo and very healthy dose of relevant celebrity endorsement; immediately resonated with doves of football fans. Just as important, it was entertaining, it sparked conversations, and it drove a new kind of awareness to the brand.

The Super Bowl Ad that Changed Everything

It’s no surprise that Apple is credited with paving the way for the advertising showcase that the Super Bowl has become. Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad is considered the first commercial that made Super Bowl advertising something of significance. The ad itself cost about $370,000 to produce, but that year, the average 30-second spot cost $525,000. It was a worthwhile investment by Apple, as the commercial was reportedly seen by 85 million people and continues to rank as one of the most famous ads in Super Bowl history.

Steve Hayden, who was one of the creators of the ad, said that Steve Jobs wanted an ad to announce the advent of Macintosh that would stop the world in its tracks. After someone suggested the only place to do that would be the Super Bowl. Hayden recalls how Jobs said he didn’t know anyone that watched the Super Bowl. 

The ad which was directed by Ridley Scott almost wasn’t shown at the Super Bowl but is now hailed as a major turning point in Super Bowl advertising. The CMO of the NFL, Tim Ellis called the move brilliant and brave. Rich Silverstein of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners says the 1984 ad changed everything and made the Super Bowl an advertising event. 

Commercials on the Rise

In 1995, a 30-second spot crossed the million-dollar threshold in Super Bowl XXIX and would hit $2 million only five years later. By 2015 and Super Bowl 50, 30 seconds cost companies $4.5 million and the broadcast would garner 112 million viewers.

Over the years we have all become familiar with some of the most noteworthy Super Bowl commercials. Ads like basketball stars Michael Jordan and Larry Bird dueling for a Big Mac in 1993, the Budweiser Frogs in 1995, the E-Trade Baby from 2008 to 2013, Betty White for Snickers in 2010, and who can forget the Budweiser Puppy Love commercial in 2014?

As Super Bowl commercials have evolved, so have viewers. With streaming changes on the rise, in future years, perhaps the value of Super Bowl commercials will start to fade and there will be a shift in where advertisers place their marketing dollars. As people continue to stream and watch the Super Bowl commercials at their own leisure, there is added value for small to medium sized businesses to use OTT and video marketing to capture the Super Bowl audience.

At Water Bear Marketing we love advertising and are experts when it comes to getting you the best ROI with your advertising dollars. Like most people, we enjoy watching the eye-catching commercials during the Super Bowl and are here to help you stand out.

Contact us today for a free consultation. While the Super Bowl may currently be considered the championship of advertising, like that 1984 Apple commercial, we hope to change history in the marketing world.