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How Much Does a Super Bowl Commercial Cost?

By Jennifer Hassan in Super Bowl
| January 28, 2020 11:08 pm PDT
Coca Cola, Amazon, Budweiser and Super Bowl 54 Logos

Super Bowl commercials have become as famous as the game itself. Corporations know that they have the eyes of more than 100 million viewers on this day, so they want to offer advertising that makes the dollars flow in. This means the commercials.

However, before the dollars can flow in, they have to flow out. Like a fiscal hemorrhage, actually.

Before we get into how much money it costs to run a Super Bowl commercial today, let’s very briefly look back at how much commercials at the Super Bowl used to cost.

The History of Super Bowl Commercial Costs

In 1967, at Super Bowl I, commercial airtime was offered to companies who wanted to advertise during this fledgling sporting event. They—the networks, the NFL, and the advertisers themselves—didn’t know at that time what a popular culture extravaganza the Super Bowl would become.

At this time, in the late ‘60s, a Super Bowl commercial spot cost about $42,000 on both NBC and CBS.

A decade later, at Super Bowl X in 1976, the cost of a commercial was $110,000. This is about two and a half times the cost of what it was at Super Bowl I.

In Super Bowl XX, the era of Mike Ditka and the Chicago Bears, the cost of a commercial had jumped to more than half a million dollars. The exact cost of a spot on the NBC network during the game that year was $550,000.

So the cost of a Super Bowl commercial spot in the mid-‘80s was already over half a million for 30 seconds.

Let’s fast-forward to Super Bowl XXX, when the cost of a mid-game ad was just more than one million dollars.

Pepsi was a major advertiser during this game, Budweiser had its Clydesdales on screen, and Michelob Light and Baked Lays were making their presence known. So were Oscar Meyer and the pork industry.

Super Bowl XL, in 2006, had advertisers paying $2.5 million for the privilege of reaching more than one hundred million people.

How Much Do Super Bowl 2020 Commercials Cost?

In 2020, the cost of a Super Bowl commercial is around $5.5 million. There are around 85 commercials during the Super Bowl. This amounts to about half a billion dollars spent on what is close to one hour of advertising for a three-hour game.

It seems incredible that half a billion dollars is spent to compel viewers on one day to purchase products and services, but consider that PepsiCo alone is worth nearly $200 billion, according to NASDAQ.

Compare this to the fiscal fitness of Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world, which has a gross domestic product of around $13 billion. Such is the power of a global corporate entity.

Is It Worth It to Pay for a Super Bowl Commercial?

Investing in a Super Bowl commercial is a gamble. And like all gambling, there are winners, and there are losers. In hindsight, the multi-million-dollar spot was worth it if it brought in more dollars than were spent creating, producing, and airing the ad.

And, of course, the opposite is true if the cost of the commercial drains the company of resources and even leads to its demise. Some of the companies below have seen big impacts on their brand because of their Super Bowl commercials.

When the Commercial’s Cost Kills the Company

Just for Feet was a shoe company. They hired an ad agency to create a Super Bowl commercial. So far, a story no different than that of dozens of companies gearing up for game day.

Unfortunately, the ad was so offensive that it not only lost the company the millions of dollars the ad cost, but it cost Just for Feet the goodwill of its customers and the public.

I have a difficult time even rewatching the commercial. Didn’t even one of the actors, upon reading the script, say, “Uh, folks. This is a real No Can Do”? Apparently not.

The company went bankrupt and folded soon after.

When you watch the ad, you’ll see a gang of hunters chasing down a barefoot man. The hunters drug him and force shoes on him while he lies unconscious. The violation of the comatose man is creepy at best, and it honors forceful imperialism and plain old bad behavior/victimization of others at worst.

It didn’t sell any shoes.

Just for Feet tried to sue the ad agency. The agency said, “You okayed the ad!” To which Just for Feet replied, “You said it would sell shoes!” The ad agency never paid up.

When the Commercial’s Cost Makes the Company

It’s clear that Doritos, Coke, and Budweiser are all wildly successful global brands. But we can’t know how much of this is due to television commercials in general and any Super Bowl commercial in particular.

What’s tough about the effects of television (and radio) advertisement is that the results are difficult to quantify.

Unlike click-through internet advertising, where you can count exactly how many people have visited the advertiser’s website, when it comes to TV and radio, you just have to put the commercial out there and hope for the best.

There are a few companies who did see a notable uptick in their customer base after airing a Super Bowl ad, including E*TRADE and It’s a 10 Haircare, as discussed below.

Winners and Losers of Super Bowl Commercial Advertising

Here are some of the best and worst 30-second Super Bowl ad spots that cost millions.

My Favorite Super Bowl Commercial

This commercial for It’s a 10 Haircare aired during Super Bowl LI, back when commercials only cost $5 million to run. (Ah, the good old days, a time of sarsaparilla, home cooking, and an honest day’s labor.)

This commercial was timely, making a soft political statement while using models that a) look like real people, and b) represent a broad cross-section of the US.

Super Bowl commercials are supposed to be selling products. Often, that’s overshadowed as whatever ad agency has been hired tries to simply be as funny and memorable as possible.

This commercial, however, is not only engaging but also created a best-ever sales day for It’s a 10 hair products.

Another Clear Win

E*TRADE used a baby to highlight its easy-access investment advice and mobile app.

It would seem to be a total misconception, since you don’t want to associate children—who are likely to have a poor understanding of stock portfolios and the bond markets—with a large investment company.

But it worked, since E*TRADE reportedly opened a boatload of new accounts ever these ads aired.

If you don’t remember these ads, here’s a refresher.

The concept was a gamble.

Fast Company reported that the ad agency behind the baby, Grey New York, was terrified about the release of the commercial, recognizing that it could be great/awesome/memorable, or it could be the “dirty diaper” of all Super Bowl ads.

Well, it was better than great, as it paid off for E*TRADE in terms of name recognition and new clients, as well as becoming one of the most iconic advertising spots in Super Bowl commercial history.

Epic Fail

Super Bowl XXXIV saw a company called LifeMinders air an attempt at an edgy new approach. Their “angle” was to create a monumentally boring and poorly produced ad that would, ideally, grip the viewers with its unwillingness to cater to older, more typical advertising approaches.

Those “outmoded” approaches being, apparently, a good soundtrack, quality graphics, and some kind of identifiable plot.

After watching (forcing myself to watch) the commercial more than several times, I still couldn’t figure out what the company made/sold/wanted me to do with the information (not) provided.

I had to resort to other resources to find out what the company’s product is.

Granted, back in 2000, a Super Bowl commercial only cost about $2 million, but that was real money back in those days, especially for a dot com startup.

LifeMinders went out of business not long after this spot aired, and it fully deserves a spot among the worst Super Bowl commercials created.

For the Love of Viral

On the opposite side of the (solid gold) coin, is the kind of advertising phenomenon that every company hopes for, but for which one cannot plan or count on, since it relies on the vagaries of popular mood to carry the message.

It’s the low-budget commercial that goes viral.

Case in point: Will Farrell did a commercial for Old Milwaukee Beer that only aired in Nebraska, cost about $37 to make, and then went viral all over YouTube (for free).

I don’t have the stats to know whether or not this created a significant impact on Old Milwaukee sales, but I know I sure crave a 12-pack when I watch this ad.

Conclusion

The Super Bowl gets more than a hundred million viewers. Corporations want to get their products in front of this mammoth pool of viewers who are, for several hours, glued to the screen. The networks charge big bucks for this.

At Super Bowl I, a commercial cost less than $50,000. At Super Bowl 2020, a 30-second ad spot costs about $5.5 million.

If you want to be a household name, you’ll want to consider coughing up the dough.

It’s notable that there is so much interest in Super Bowl commercials, most bookmakers offer prop bets on them each year. Here are the best commercial prop bets for Super Bowl 54.

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