Why Are Super Bowl Ads a Spectator Sport?
Skip to content
Marketing Feb 3, 2022

Why Are Super Bowl Ads a Spectator Sport?

With the big game coming up, many fans are gearing up... to watch brands go toe-to-toe

sales coach football play

Yevgenia Nayberg

In less than two weeks, one of the biggest sporting events of the year—The Super Bowl—will be upon us.

Add Insight
to your inbox.

For football fans, especially if your team is one of the two teams in the big game, the event represents the culmination and climax to a season-long battle among some of the most elite athletes in the world. Yet, whether it be through casual conversation or a consumer poll, it is rather common to hear that a large contingency of people are as excited, perhaps even more excited, about Super Bowl ads. Put simply, an excitement and anticipation exist around watching Super Bowl ads. Why?

Part of the party

The Super Bowl is not an event that most people consume in isolation. It is often a time of celebration where people come together. Indeed, even during the Covid-19 pandemic, we have gathered, albeit virtually, to watch ads together. Moreover, social media and YouTube come alive with discussion and banter about the ads. A related reason for this is that Super Bowl ads often feature ad agencies’ best and most creative work. A lot of effort goes into designing and delivering Super Bowl spots, and this makes them a spectacle to behold that people want to be a part of. Put simply, Super Bowl ads have become their own cultural experience that, for at least a short period, fuels engagement and conversation with others and makes us feel part of the party.

We can’t all be winners

Another reality is, while the Super Bowl is advertised as a clash of the titans, a majority of the audience won’t be a fan of either team. In fact, we all know someone who would prefer that neither team wins! Even if you favor one team over the other, it’s often impossible to get excited for them when your team is not in the big game. In contrast, Super Bowl ads provide a level playing field. We can all laugh at ads that surprise us with the surprise appearance of a celebrity with a clever quip. We can all scratch our heads when we see an ad that doesn’t make sense. And, when a brand really blows it—which happens from time to time—we can all point out how we could have done a better job. In short, while we can’t all be winners when it comes to having our team in the Super Bowl, we can all have something to say about the Super Bowl ads!

The cost

I’ve watched Super Bowl ads for a long time. And every year I receive questions from reporters about the ads. And every year, like an alarm going off on command, the most common question I get has to do with the cost. Super Bowl ads now come in at more than $5 million dollars for a 30-second spot. There’s a lot you can do in advertising for $5 million dollars. In fact, a number of brands will spend more on their Super Bowl spot than other brands will spend throughout the entire year. The cost draws people’s attention to the event, and it also leads to the discussions and conversations of how one might have done a lot better with the same money! And, in case you’re wondering, the cost reflects the fact that the Super Bowl reaches a massive audience—often over 90 million people—that wants to watch the ads! It’s hard to find another channel that meets these two parameters, which is why the costs of Super Bowl ads have continued to rise.

Last week, we learned that the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams will be vying for supremacy in this year’s Super Bowl. We don’t know who will win, but there is no ambiguity that the Super Bowl ads will be in full force, and like many of my readers, I’ll be ready to discuss them after they’ve aired.

*

This article originally appeared in Forbes.

Featured Faculty

Sandy & Morton Goldman Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies in Marketing; Professor of Marketing; Co-chair of Faculty Research

Most Popular This Week
  1. What Happens to Worker Productivity after a Minimum Wage Increase?
    A pay raise boosts productivity for some—but the impact on the bottom line is more complicated.
    employees unload pallets from a truck using hand carts
  2. 6 Takeaways on Inflation and the Economy Right Now
    Are we headed into a recession? Kellogg’s Sergio Rebelo breaks down the latest trends.
    inflatable dollar sign tied down with mountains in background
  3. How to Get the Ear of Your CEO—And What to Say When You Have It
    Every interaction with the top boss is an audition for senior leadership.
    employee presents to CEO in elevator
  4. 3 Tips for Reinventing Your Career After a Layoff
    It’s crucial to reassess what you want to be doing instead of jumping at the first opportunity.
    woman standing confidently
  5. How Offering a Product for Free Can Backfire
    It seems counterintuitive, but there are times customers would rather pay a small amount than get something for free.
    people in grocery store aisle choosing cheap over free option of same product.
  6. Which Form of Government Is Best?
    Democracies may not outlast dictatorships, but they adapt better.
    Is democracy the best form of government?
  7. When Do Open Borders Make Economic Sense?
    A new study provides a window into the logic behind various immigration policies.
    How immigration affects the economy depends on taxation and worker skills.
  8. Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?
    A new study dispels some of the mystery behind success after failure.
    Scientists build a staircase from paper
  9. How Are Black–White Biracial People Perceived in Terms of Race?
    Understanding the answer—and why black and white Americans may percieve biracial people differently—is increasingly important in a multiracial society.
    How are biracial people perceived in terms of race
  10. How Has Marketing Changed over the Past Half-Century?
    Phil Kotler’s groundbreaking textbook came out 55 years ago. Sixteen editions later, he and coauthor Alexander Chernev discuss how big data, social media, and purpose-driven branding are moving the field forward.
    people in 1967 and 2022 react to advertising
  11. College Campuses Are Becoming More Diverse. But How Much Do Students from Different Backgrounds Actually Interact?
    Increasing diversity has been a key goal, “but far less attention is paid to what happens after we get people in the door.”
    College quad with students walking away from the center
  12. What Went Wrong at AIG?
    Unpacking the insurance giant's collapse during the 2008 financial crisis.
    What went wrong during the AIG financial crisis?
  13. Immigrants to the U.S. Create More Jobs than They Take
    A new study finds that immigrants are far more likely to found companies—both large and small—than native-born Americans.
    Immigrant CEO welcomes new hires
  14. Podcast: Does Your Life Reflect What You Value?
    On this episode of The Insightful Leader, a former CEO explains how to organize your life around what really matters—instead of trying to do it all.
  15. How Peer Pressure Can Lead Teens to Underachieve—Even in Schools Where It’s “Cool to Be Smart”
    New research offers lessons for administrators hoping to improve student performance.
    Eager student raises hand while other student hesitates.
  16. Why Well-Meaning NGOs Sometimes Do More Harm than Good
    Studies of aid groups in Ghana and Uganda show why it’s so important to coordinate with local governments and institutions.
    To succeed, foreign aid and health programs need buy-in and coordination with local partners.
  17. How Will Automation Affect Different U.S. Cities?
    Jobs in small cities will likely be hit hardest. Check how your community and profession will fare.
    How will automation affect jobs and cities?
More in Marketing