‘If your ad is sh*t, millions of people will be talking about that’: Is Super Bowl advertising worth the price tag?

Is a 30-second Super Bowl spot really worth the expensive investment? Are the commercials as important as the game itself? Mumbrella's Lauren McNamara sat down with some of Australia's leading creatives to find out.

Hitting Australian screens through Seven’s broadcast, Super Bowl LVIII is set to kick off this morning between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. But all eyes will be on the commercials.

Brands across categories including automotive, FMCG, and food and beverage, just to name a few, have spent upwards of USD$7 million (AUD$10 million) for a 30-second commercial spot for the second consecutive year.

According to Variety, the ad slots “virtually sold out” in November last year, showing the momentum is not slowly down. But, that’s just to lock in a slot – the investment doesn’t include the ad production or securing celebrities and talent.

All of a sudden, the $7 million price tag seems like the smallest expense.

Super Bowl LVIII

Is it worth it?

Despite that, Pete Bosilkovski, CEO of creative agency It’s Friday, says the investment is well worth it – as the numbers don’t lie.

The first number: 115 million. The number of people tuning in to the game from the United States. The second: 7. The average cost to purchase an ad.

“There are bigger events in the world, but no other country or culture places such a spot light on the advertising like the US does during the Super Bowl,” he tells Mumbrella. “Alongside the game itself and the half time show, the ads are engrained in the cultural phenomena that is the Super Bowl,” he says.

“Brands will go all out ‘creatively’ to entertain, stand out and achieve the holy grail, create brand fame. To be the brand that people talk about. If there is any event that can catapult a brand into fame status, it’s the Super Bowl. With the significant investment in media, the creativity that follows is sure not to disappoint. How can you not love it, if it brings out the best in brands and creativity?” he adds.

Brands are spending millions

DDB’s creative partner, Jenny Mak, agreed with Bosilkovski, saying the Super Bowl represents so much more than just a game of football – but that it also goes well beyond just the United States.

“It’s a cultural phenomenon that captivates millions of viewers worldwide,” she tells Mumbrella. “For brands, the allure of the Super Bowl lies in its unparalleled reach and impact.”

Mak stresses that the true value of the investment is not the ad itself, but the aftermath – the conversation it sparks, the emotions it evokes, and the lasting impression it leaves on audiences.

Describing the Super Bowl as “the global advertising and creativity mecca”, Reunion Agency co-CEO and founder, Justin Hind, seconds Mak’s point of the Super Bowl’s global reach, saying it has become a cultural event that spans the game, pop culture, fashion and music.

“Some people watch it just for the ads. Brands start priming weeks out from the game; the stars and celebs are getting bigger and bigger. Ads now refer to other ads in the Super Bowl. It also has massive earned media potential beyond paid, brands are already leveraging it at scale into social and experience with huge effect. If a brand wants to make a big impact, I think there’s no better way if they can afford the creative and media investment to make it work,” he argues.

Super Bowl advertising also gives a brand “confidence and kudos”, according to Campaign Edge’s ECD, Dee Madigan.

“It is a massive investment but if you factor in not just the viewers of Super Bowl but the literally millions of eyeballs seeing the ad online, seeing the teasers, voting in the best ads polls, reading about it in news, watching it on talk shows etc etc it can be a very good investment,” she says.

Super Bowl LVIII

She jokes: “The downside is that if your ad is shit, millions of people will be talking about that!”

Mak also acknowledges that the investment must be strategic, as simply airing a Super Bowl commercial won’t guarantee success: “Brands must craft messages that resonate deeply with their target audience, provoke thought, and inspire action. It’s about leveraging the platform to its fullest potential and creating experiences that extend beyond the television screen.”

While most seem to say yes, dentsu Creative ANZ’s ECD, Sarah McGregor, argues that the answer is maybe.

“Like a microcosm of advertising a whole, it’s really only worth the investment if you’re fresh and entertaining enough to capture people’s imagination and attention,” she explains. “And we’ve all seen brands like Skittles ‘win’ the Super Bowl without paying a penny to appear in the game – a feat that can only be accomplished with original, brilliant entertainment.”

Will this year be any different?

As it does every year, the Super Bowl is expected to get bigger and better – and so will the commercials.

“There will be more of what makes a Super Bowl ad a Super Bowl ad,” notes Daniel Sparkes, creative lead at Bullfrog.

“The Super Bowl compliments the resurgence of the comedic commercial we’re seeing around the world. Obviously things will feel larger. Fuller. Crammed with wall to wall gags, crammed full of celebrities. It will be the brands that leave enough air for the comedy to survive that will be remembered,” he says.

McGregor seconds Sparkes thoughts: “I think after a few years of licking the wounds of Covid, we’re finally seeing a return to humour, which is great. Clydesdales and puppies are lovely, but give me a good laugh any day of the (Super Bowl) week.”

Mak says this year will see an evolution towards digital and interactive experiences: “With the rise of streaming platforms and second-screen viewing habits, brands are increasingly looking beyond traditional TV spots to engage audiences across multiple channels simultaneously. This could manifest in interactive ads, immersive experiences, or integrated social media campaigns that extend the reach and impact of Super Bowl commercials.”

Thinkerbell’s Tom Wenborn, executive creative tinker, seconded Mak’s point, arguing that the Super Bowl follows trends, instead of setting them – and if that’s true, this year will see more personalisation and interactivity.

Thanks to Taylor Swift, this year seems like the first the Super Bowl is acknowledging the existence of women in any sort of meaningful away, according to Clemenger BBDO’s ECD, Tristan Graham.

“While that shift has been driven mostly by brands betting on the power of Taylor Swift’s attendance, it’s still refreshing to see more commercials with jokes aimed at women and also what seems to be a higher number of female leads in ads this year,” he says. “Hopefully this more inclusive trend continues.”

Liquid Death’s Biggest ad ever and Miller’s 1,000 running ads, while not airing in the Super Bowl, are both good examples,” he says.

Liquid Death’s ‘Biggest ad ever’

Bosilkovski, however, notes that the Super Bowl normally captures the mood of the nation, but this year will be different.

“The cost-of-living crisis would be driving the mood of every country in the world, but for 2hrs, it will put that to the side as brands go all out duke it out to entertain like nobody’s business and add to the passion and excitement of the game,” he says.

Shane Geffen, ECD at HERO, adds: “It feels like humour is back with a vengeance. There’s so much doom and gloom going on right now so laughter can be a powerful tool in creating positive emotional connections for brands. Humour can heal… and increase sales.”

Alex Don, client lead at Common Ventures, also notes: “Less using nostalgic pop culture references from 10-20 years ago in lieu of an idea. But, bad ideas will still be buoyed by too many celebrities.”

What’s more important – the game or the ads?

When we think about the Super Bowl, it’s not just the game itself. It’s the commercials, the half-time show, and the environment you’re in, that all become integral parts of the experience.

Geffen says Super Bowl ads are a marketing tool for the game.

“They fuel the hype, anticipation, and spectacle of it all leading up to the main event. And just like the team who wins, the ads that win will also be remembered long after the game.”

The game often acts as a moment of cultural disruption, through its commercials, according to Mak.

“Think back to iconic ads like Apple’s ‘1984’, which premiered during the Super Bowl and forever changed the landscape of advertising,” she tells Mumbrella. “It wasn’t just a commercial; it was a moment of cultural disruption, setting a new standard for creativity and storytelling in advertising.

Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad

“Super Bowl commercials aren’t just breaks between plays; they’re star-studded spectacles that give the game a run for its money. From iconic classics to modern marvels, these ads prove that in the game of advertising, creativity always takes home the trophy. So, while touchdowns may win games, it’s often the commercials that leave a lasting impression. I for one can recall more Super Bowl ads than NFL players.”

Graham jokes that the commercials and half-time show are his highlight, and the football is his ad break: “That said, when it comes to live events, America is a fantastic host. There’s a bigness, a boldness, a theatrical spirit—everything they do has a Hollywood-like scale to it, an inherent confidence that you don’t really find at sporting events anywhere else in the world.

“The Super Bowl is about entertaining people and thankfully, the commercials strive toward the same objective,” he adds.

Hind seconds Graham’s perspective: “The commercials are now as much a part of the Super Bowl as the halftime show and the game itself. I’d compare the expectations around Super Bowl advertising to that of major brands in the UK at Christmas, where audiences have come to think of major ads as a seasonal tradition.

“For people around the world who don’t really understand the game or know the teams well (like me), I think the ads and halftime show are the main drawcards to be honest.”

Don says: “Working in the industry, I see Super Bowl advertising has a large gravitational pull each year as we look to draw inspiration for our own clients back home. But the ads aren’t as big as the game, the ads are big because the game is.”

Sparkes notes that Super Bowl ads are often teased in the weeks leading up to the big game, and that’s an irregularity in the advertising world.

“The ads are definitely treated with an affection. People genuinely look forward to them,” he says. “It’s evident when the ads themselves now have their own preshow through the form of teasers. When would you ever tease an ad? Never, would usually be the answer.”


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