Are Super Bowl Ads Worth the Cost?

By Madison Taylor
February 5, 2022
view from the 50 yardline on a football field looking at a full stadium with lights on

Every year it rolls around, and every year, companies, marketers, and sporting affiliates salivate at the potential that Super Bowl advertising presents. That excitement and anticipation aren’t unwarranted, either, as the Super Bowl also represents the largest one-day sporting event on the planet. The evidence is in the sheer amount of advertising money invested in this massive sporting gala.

Super Bowl Advertising

The cost of an average television commercial on any given day isn’t merely a drop in an advertiser’s budget bucket. Recent statistics show that a typical 30-second commercial runs around $115,000. By comparison, a 30-second spot on Super Bowl Sunday has a price tag of over $5 million.

The good news is that commercials work when done right, and on Super Bowl Sunday, they unarguably have the potential to reach an enormous audience. That temptation was enough to cause advertisers to spend a record $449 million for Super Bowl LV in 2020.

So, the real question isn’t whether Super Bowl advertising is effective. The real question is whether Super Bowl ads guarantee effectiveness and whether they justify the investment.

Advertising Trends

To begin with, investing that amount of money in anything deserves a second or even third look. Furthermore, a deeper look into the numbers reveals something about advertising trends that may make marketing teams question the kind of money that businesses spend during this once-a-year event.

Social media platforms and other forms of viewing entertainment are taking a bite out of the share historically dominated by television. One example of this is the more than 600,000 hours spent by consumers watching Super Bowl ads, not on television, but via YouTube. It’s a sport in itself.

Not only does this indicate an apparent shift in how people are watching, but from what device and how. Additionally, the numbers (based on the 2019 Super Bowl) reveal a nearly 60% increase in alternative viewing from the previous year. If that sounds like advertising trends and concerns for marketers and companies spending millions on traditional television advertising, it is.

The Implications of Technology, Social Media, and Streaming for Traditional Advertising Methods

When all is said and done, two very definitive messages can be gleaned from this data and information. First, these numbers affirm that the way viewers choose to watch the Super Bowl and other programs has become more diverse. With options such as streaming and on-demand programming, television viewership is clearly going down as a result.

The second, and the most important lesson gleaned from this data, is that the same investment in Super Bowl advertising isn’t reaching the same number of people as in years past. Moreover, Super Bowl viewership via television has been on a steady decline for years.

Based on television viewing data, Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 had 47.5 million viewers. Two years later, viewership for Super Bowl LI in 2017 had dropped to 45.3 million. For Super Bowl LIII in 2019, the total number of viewers fell to 41.1 million. Continuing that trend, Super Bowl LV in 2021 recorded just over 38 million viewers.

These numbers emphasize the fact that viewers are choosing to watch their favorite programs and events like the Super Bowl using mediums other than TV. Those numbers should also make companies ask whether Super Bowl advertising is worth the cost and the huge gouge out of marketing budgets.

The ROI Evaluation

Marketing and advertising are, at their core, based on a simple principle: Get the products, services, or business in front of as many prospective customers as possible. That translates into creating brand presence wherever the greatest number of likely prospects are. It’s arguably the biggest reason why companies stretch their marketing budgets on Super Bowl ads.

These declining viewership numbers, however, suggest that being where the customer is may require more than procuring a 30-second Super Bowl time slot. Data regarding social media expenditures and social media usage also questions justifications for spending millions on Super Bowl advertising.

An investment in Super Bowl advertising doesn’t guarantee ROI, and given the impact on marketing budgets, many businesses are looking into more integrated approaches that use authentic brand experiences and tactics to target more specific audiences and create more qualified leads.

Global spending on digital ads was expected to be nearly $400 billion in 2021, and a large portion of that was dedicated to Super Bowl Sunday. In the US alone, the investment in social media ads exceeded $40 billion. This information makes it clear that companies and marketers are now employing a more integrated approach and diversifying their market strategies.

Advertising Goals and Marketing Budgets

Even more attention-getting than the money invested in non-television advertising efforts is the money that companies save. When it comes to marketing budgets, the average cost for paid search actions was about $50. That price jumped to $75 for display ads. How many of these display ads could a company get for $5 million?

Another reason advertising trends are swaying toward a more integrated approach is the ability to better target audiences using social media and other technology-empowered platforms. If the fundamental idea of marketing is to be where the customer is and to get those products and services in front of them, then an integrated approach just makes logical sense.

Are Super Bowl Ads worth the cost? Those answers may eventually come down to each business and its products, services, and goals. Given enough time, however, and with the current decade-long trend of declining TV viewership and increasing alternatives, that question may answer itself.