Tonight, the New England Patriots will take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. People all across the United States will head to crowded bars or house parties to watch the most anticipated football game of the year. Last year, 112 million people tuned in to watch the New England Patriots take on the Atlanta Falcons. That is a lot of eyeballs. While ratings are definitely helped out by marquee, big market teams such as the Patriots, New York Giants, or even Dallas Cowboys playing in the big game, the Super Bowl is consistently one of the most watched television programs of the year and has become ingrained in American society.
While the teams on the field are ultimately why most people tune in, there is a significant portion of people who watch the Super Bowl strictly for the commercials. In fact, in games such as Super Bowl XLVIII between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, most morning shows the next day dedicated most of their air time to talk about the most memorable commercials, such as Budweiser’s Puppy Love commercial that aired late in the Seahawks’ blowout win.
Most major companies for the past few decades have poured millions of dollars into creating advertising campaigns based off of their Super Bowl ads. A 30 second ad spot for Super Bowl LII tonight on NBC will cost around $5 million, which begs the question: is it even worth it? In today’s entertainment climate, television networks are trying to find unique ways to keep their viewer’s eyeballs on the screen during commercial breaks, as the price they can charge for air-time will start to decrease if it’s determined that advertisers are not getting their money’s worth. This has become ever so present in live sporting events, as people use commercial breaks as an opportunity to get a beer from the fridge or make a trip to the bathroom. The rise of Twitter has also had an impact on viewers staying tuned in for commercials, as the social media outlet allows user to engage with other fans, get insight from analysts about what’s happening on the field, or even watch replays.
So how can companies combat this shift in viewing habits? Well, it has actually already started. Over the past few years, companies have began releasing either clips or full-length videos of their upcoming Super Bowl commercials on their various social media platforms. Last week, Amazon released a preview for their commercial about the Amazon Echo, in which Alexa loses her voice. Just a few days ago, Amazon released the entire full-length commerical, which features celebrities such as Gordon Ramsay and Cardi B taking over for Alexa on users’ devices.
M&M’s has also opted for a similar strategy to that implored by Amazon. The company first released a 15 second teaser starring Danny Devito, only to release the full-length commercial later in the week.
This new strategy begs the question: why are companies paying all of this money for a Super Bowl ad when they are releasing the commercial ahead of time? Part of what made Super Bowl ads exciting in the past was that they were brand new, never before seen by the viewing audience. Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University, believes that a good commercial can actually receive additional buzz because if a person likes the ad when he or she views it ahead of time, when they are watching the Super Bowl, it could become a topic of conversation with friends. This conversation could then turn into an interest by the viewing audience to stay engaged during commercial breaks in order to see the ad when it airs during the game.
While I see the point trying to be made here by Calkins, I simply can’t buy it. I think that the impact of Super Bowl ads is a massive overstatement created by the television networks in order to gouge for airtime during the game. In the pre-social media days, most viewers watched the commercials because there wasn’t much else to do. Now, instead of watching the commercials, I can text my friends to get their opinions of the game, I can go on Twitter to release my frustration or read other people’s venting tweets, or I can check my various sports apps for different insights and analysis. I didn’t even get to mentioning Snapchat, the introduction of Facebook Live, Instagram Stories, and the multitude of other ways that we absorb content nowadays.
While giant companies such as Amazon can continue paying millions of dollars for airtime and not see it affect their bottom line, I think that companies should take a hard look at what Skittles planned for its Super Bowl commercial this year. After airing an ad during the Super Bowl for the past three years, Skittles decided to create a Super Bowl commercial that will only be viewed by one person during the game. Fans will be able to go on Facebook Live during the Super Bowl to watch 17 year old Marcos Menendez’s reaction to the Skittles commercial. This unconventional PR stunt is far less costly than a regular Super Bowl ad and included teasers leading up to tonight’s airing. Skittles has uniquely found a way to still be a part of the Super Bowl ad excitement while only paying a fraction of the price, rather choosing to leverage a popular platform in Facebook Live. If this goes well for Skittles, we could see many smaller but well known companies opt to go a route like this in future Super Bowls.
As a lifelong Patriots fan, I have usually paid a lot more attention to the actual game than the commercials. The commercials are often my time to detox. Even in years when the Patriots have not been playing in the game, I have always been less than excited to watch the heavily anticipated ad spots. Given that a lot of ad exposure is tied to the reaction on social media, I think it has become even more difficult for companies to measure whether their multi-million dollar investment on Super Bowl Sunday is even worth it. I don’t think the craze around Super Bowl commercials will ever go away because it has become a way for people who are not die-hard football fans to find a reason to tune in.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the prices for the Super Bowl spots in the next few years to either stagnate or begin to slightly decrease. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the NFL this season regarding National Anthem protests and the constant concern about concussions. Many experts believe that these factors have had an impact on declining viewership this season, but it is yet to be seen whether that will spill over into the biggest game of the season. I don’t think it will, but if it does, it could begin to change the landscape of advertising for the biggest game of the year.