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Super Bowl commercials and why we love them

In the advertising biz, this is their “big game”

The Super Bowl is an unofficial national holiday affectionately entitled “Super Sunday.” It is also the biggest food production day in the foodstuff retail business. One in every six televisions is bought just months prior to the game. Snack companies increase production of potato and tortilla chips in anticipation of higher sales. Pizza delivery companies hire more drivers and sell more pies than at any other time of the year. The big game sends sales of beer, soda, chips and salsa through the roof.

“Super Sunday” is the third-largest alcohol consumption celebration behind New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day. One in four workers will participate in a game pool while the weekend is almost non-existent for weddings.

The game was created from the merger negotiations between the established National Football League (NFL) and the younger American Football League (AFL). Both leagues had their own championship games and league champions, but this game was designed to pit league champs against each other.

The first two games were called the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.” Lamar Hunt, owner of the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, coined the term “Super Bowl” inadvertently at a committee meeting. Hunt had thought of the name while watching his children play with the Wham-O toy Super Ball. The commissioner of the NFL, Pete Rozelle, didn’t like the term “super” thinking it had no sophistication and was simply an ordinary term.

Pro football beat writers, commentators and even players began using the term Super Bowl and whether or not Rozelle thought the moniker was grammatically correct or not, the name stuck. Rozelle’s suggestion for the game’s title? “The Big One.”

The Super Bowl decides the champion of the NFL, and also the champions of the advertising universe. Inasmuch as the Super Bowl has created a mass gathering either in sports bars or at household gatherings, this splendid festival generates just as much interest in the commercials as it does the actual game itself.

Basically, the Super Bowl is the most influential amphitheater in the world of TV advertising. In the ecosphere of advertising it is viewed as judgment day. Brand new ad campaigns often begin their kickoff during the game.

The three networks that carry the NFL broadcasts - CBS, Fox and NBC - alternate as host of the Super Bowl each year. Fox will broadcast Super Bowl LI this year and has announced the cost for each 30 second spot is a record $5 million. The auto industry will be the most prevalent advertisers.

Why the Super Bowl?

This one broadcast annually ranks among the highest Nielsen ratings, reaching more than 115 million people worldwide. Of the top 45 shows of all time, 20 are Super Bowls. Last year’s Super Bowl 50 between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers became the most watched television broadcast of all time, commanding 72 percent of the market share in the United States alone. In a Top 20 list, the finale of “M*A*S*H” is the only non-Super Bowl program.

These figures have outdone the Olympics, “Oprah,” the Apollo 13 splashdown, the World Cup, the mini-series “Roots”, the Royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana, “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the O. J. Simpson murder trial and the final episodes of “M*A*S*H,” “Dallas,” “Friends” and “I Love Lucy.”

Last year, a 30-second spot netted $4.5 million. With the high cost, viewers are guaranteed that the commercials will be creative and interesting. Even before the opening kickoff, there is a lot of anticipation about the innovation and humor that the commercials will create. After the game, numerous sports-related websites post the commercials and even write reviews of the best — and the worst.

The price tag only includes advertising on whichever American network the game is telecast on. With foreign venues, those networks sell their own advertising time and are usually just a fraction of the rates for the North American region. And the cost of the commercials does not include the funds needed for the ad agencies, actors, equipment, director and crew in order to produce the final product.

For advertisers, the need is to scale the communication and make certain that the product’s ideas are sending enough exposure for the high-priced message to have some basis of accomplishment. And at the same time, advertisers need to form a bond with consumers. This enables a dedication factor to the brand names as well - especially when dealing with choosing, say, a cola brand.

Critics of the high-dollar commercial time point to modern advantages for recording the game with the ability to fast-forward past the ads. However, survey data states that viewers who record the game in any form are actually rewinding the commercials in order to watch them over-and-over.

Commercial demand for this year’s Super Bowl was at an all-time high and sold out back in October. Some sources have suggested that Fox possibly sold out the spots too quickly and may have been able to push the limits on the price tag.

The Super Bowl stage is important to advertisers. It is viewed as the foremost program to create product awareness, speed up sales of a service or product, unveil big news, or to simply remind folks that their product is still around.

What is unusual about the Super Bowl broadcast is that it was created on the premise that the primary audience would be watching the game on television.

This Year’s Advertisers

Everyone expects the beverage companies to advertise at the Super Bowl and this year is no exception. AB InBev has secured exclusive rights for beer commercials this year – a first. Busch, Budweiser, Michelob Ultra and Bud Light will all have their own airtime as well as Pepsi Life Water, Bai drinks, Fiji Water and Yellow Tail Wine.

Also view commercials from Wix, Intel, Wonderful Pistachios, Mr. Clean, T-Mobile, Skittles, Snickers, Sprint, Tide, 84 Lumber, GNC, Febreze, Mexican Avocados, Persil, McDonald’s, Squarespace, Wendy’s, Top Games, It’s a 10 Haircare, TurboTax, GoDaddy and WeatherTech.

Automobile and truck manufacturers will don the brunt of the airwaves. Expect to see commercials from Kia, Honda, Buick, Hyundai, Lexus, Ford, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, directed by the Coen Brothers. Toyota, Cooper Mini and BMW have withdrawn this year.

Also absent this year is Doritos after dominating airtime since 2007. Taco Bell, Visa and Butterfinger have also pulled out. Visa was a 30-year partner of the game.

Typically, the retail market is a weak sale for Super Bowl advertisers. On the surface, a retailer such as Victoria’s Secret would seem to be a welcome attraction for a male-dominated audience. The company bought one spot in 2008 and did not return until last year’s contest. Best Buy used the 2013 game as a barometer to determine if using the country’s number one watched show is in their best advertising dollar interests and hasn’t been back.

Advertisers Past

The very first AFL-NFL World Championship Game, later re-named Super Bowl I, was played in January of 1967 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in California The game pitted the NFL Champion Green Bay Packers against the AFL Champion Chiefs.

The competition was attended by 63,036 fans with more than 32,000 empty seats despite tickets priced at only $12. At that time, it was not customary for fans to travel to a neutral site for a game.

NBC had the AFL rights while CBS was the NFL’s lone carrier. Both networks wanted exclusive rights to broadcast the game, but it was decided to have both cover the contest. Each network furiously promoted the game in the weeks leading up to the game in order to outdo the other for future clients.

CBS charged $42,500 for each 60-second spot whereas NBC netted $37,500 per ad. Advertisers were Dodge, RCA, Haggar, Ford, McDonald’s, Goodyear Tires, American Airlines, U. S. Savings Bonds and several cigarette brands: Salem, Tareyton, Winston and Lark.

Also present were the beer ads, however, the humor that is a mainstay today wasn’t present. Busch’s commercial revealed their beer’s secret ingredient—patience. Schaefer beer anointed itself “the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.”

Super Bowl II saw a 68 percent market share with 39.12 million viewers with CBS the lone broadcast provider. Many of the first Super Bowl’s advertisers returned along with TWA Airlines, Metropolitan Life Insurance, United Airlines and Plymouth.

In Super Bowl VI between the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins, Coca-Cola made advertising history with music. Four hundred multi-cultural young people were perched on a hilltop singing “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony … I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.”

The very first famous Super bowl commercial appeared in 1973. Weeks leading up to the big game, Noxema offered viewers the opportunity to see quarterback Joe Namath get creamed during the game, and as promised, Broadway Joe did just that. With the first scene an extremely beautiful, blonde woman tells the viewing audience to watch Namath get creamed, and then cuts to him as he rubs a new creamy shaving lather on his face. As the woman, Farrah Fawcett, sings a jingle about “Let Noxema cream your face,” Namath is shown shaving, smiling and being charismatic Joe Namath.

Super Bowl XXXIV between the Rams and Titans in 2000 has become coined the “ bowl.” Out of the 36 advertisers, 17 were hopefuls. Many of these companies have since folded or drastically downsized, but and have flourished.

Prices for Super Bowl ads didn’t cross the million dollar mark until ABC charged $1.15 million in 1994, and five years later commercial space topped $2 million.

What Makes a Successful Super Bowl Commercial?

Because the game of football is not the only reason we watch the Super Bowl, advertisers have to involve certain elements in order to make their commercial successful and memorable.

In recent years, the game itself has been a close encounter often coming down to the last series of downs before a winner was crowned. But, in earlier contests, the game was often known as a boring lopsided affair that was usually over before the second half kickoff.

So advertisers need to have their best game face on while constructing their commercials. And advertisers need customers. The more customers they entice, the broader opportunities for additional business.

To have a great Super Bowl commercial, the quintessential ingredient is a great product. The second most important aspect is the art of being memorable. This is usually accomplished in several ways; the most common are by using humor, inserting heart or adding sex appeal. 30 seconds is not a lot of time to capture your audience, so it needs that zip to drive the message home.

Usually, it is best to incorporate only one of these aspects into the message, or an advertiser can just use all three similar to’s tactics and hope it works.

Successful Super Bowl Ads

The hit-your-heart Super Bowl ads are effective. Who doesn’t remember Mean Joe Greene of the Steelers limping in the tunnel when a sympathetic kid gives him his ice cold Coca-Cola? Or in 2002 with the Clydesdales pull the Budweiser wagon so elegantly across the Brooklyn Bridge, stop and then bow in reverence to the 9-11 tragedy.

Humor has ruled Super Bowl commercials. Whether its Larry Bird and Michael Jordan playing a game of horse for McDonald’s, or a mosquito who explodes after sucking blood from a guy eating pizza laced with Tobasco sauce, or the monks who use Xerox copiers to make multiple sets of their manuscripts.

For whatever reasons, the beer brands have entertained us more than any other products.

Miller Lite used a fountain to stage a scantily-clad catfight to express whether great taste or less filling is the correct answer. 1995 brought in the Budweiser frogs “Bud,” “Weis,” and “Er” and were an instant hit for years.

One of the most famous ads was for Reebok in 2005. Terry Tate office linebacker’s job in the spot is to increase productivity in the workplace. Unfortunately for office personnel, his tactics are to inflict pain with violent tackles and forearm hits.

The greatest Super Bowl ad of all time? Apple Computer’s “1984” directed by Ridley Scott during the 1984 contest. While most Super Bowl ads are produced for the big game then ran repeatedly during the corresponding year, this 60-second spot has only been aired once.