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Super Bowl Ads: Eccentricity and Local Advertising Can Make Spots Stand Out

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It's taken a 17-week regular season and weeks of nail-biting playoffs for the National Football League to whittle its 32 teams down to the two best to compete for the championship in Super Bowl LVI, just a few days from now.

An estimated 100 million viewers will be tuned in to NBC on February 13 for 60 minutes of football action complemented by some of the most anticipated advertising creative of the year, spanning pre-, halftime, and post-game programming that lasts hours longer than the actual game. Many argue that it's those advertisements, as much as the game itself, that draws in an exceptionally broad demographic of viewers.  

The Soaring Cost of Super Bowl Advertising

When the Los Angeles Rams host the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, a 30-second commercial carries a $6+ million price tag, which is a far cry from the $40-thousand buy-in available 55 years ago in Super Bowl I.

Since that first Super Bowl 5, advertisers have intensified their focus on crafting creative messages to capture the attention of the game's audience. Plus, marketers' options for securing airtime to deliver these messages have changed dramatically.

In 2015, Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers circumvented the cost of buying through the network and jumping through the hoops associated with a traditional national TV buy by securing local market inventory for the game with the first automated TV ad transaction in Super Bowl history. Network affiliate WICU-TV in Erie, PA, sold the two 15-second spots programmatically allowing Oreo and Ritz to quickly and affordably reach 100,000 viewers.

No figures were released by parent company Mondelez or its marketers on the cost of the inventory or results of the ads, but a threshold was crossed that's thriving today. Automation now accounts for $6-billion buying annually in all television advertising, and the marketplace keeps growing.

Grabbing Super Bowl Viewers' Attention

Leveraging local to obtain an affordable buy and avoid the exorbitant cost of airing on the network's coverage was never more surprisingly successful than in 2012. For Super Bowl XLVI, Pabst Brewing Co. spent $3-thousand for a 60-second spot in one of the smallest U.S. markets — North Platte, NE. Praising Old Milwaukee beer, comedian Will Ferrell delivered one of the quirkiest commercials ever, and word-of-mouth about the advertisement spread across the country through social and traditional media.

The concept was so successful that Pabst and Ferrell collaborated again the following year on another unconventional message.

Marketers regularly choose the NFL's big game to gain lasting and far-reaching recognition.  Agencies' hyper-dedication to "winning" the Super Bowl advertising game arguably began in 1977. In Super Bowl XI, IBM aired its Monks advertisement in a spot that's still held up as one of the most recognizable Super Bowl ads of all time. Since then, beer bowls, cats, a game of H-O-R-S-E, and technology have used drama, humor, physical comedy, emotion and various other means to capture attention and build buzz for products.

Actress Betty White, who continued playing iconic roles until her recent death at 99, stole the show in 2010 with her performance in Snickers' You're Not You When You're Hungry campaign. A punchline delivered by acclaimed film and television actor Abe Vigoda, who was 88 at the time, helped secure the ad's place in advertising history.

Super Bowl LVI

State-of-the-art SoF Stadium in Inglewood, CA, is the site of this year's Super Bowl, an easy rideshare from Fifth Avenue's west coast divisions on Wilshire Boulevard. A lot has changed since the first Super Bowl was played nearby in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1967. Audiences are more fractured, streaming is gaining traction, mobile devices mean an audience's undivided attention is no longer a certainty. Yet much remains the same.

Network rights for the game are expensive, so advertising nationally is still cost-prohibitive for many advertisers. But local market buys can be an affordable option, and it's proven possible to leverage local TV to gain national attention. And automated TV transactions are becoming more common, making local spots easier to buy and manage. That means Super Bowl advertising isn't just for major agencies and national brands anymore, as smaller, regional brands find creative ways to make inroads in a game they could previously only watch from the sidelines.

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