How the Super Bowl became the holy grail of media buying
Media buying refers to the practice of advertisers buying the actual form for their messages. It could be the airspace on a television or radio station, a room in a magazine or newspaper, or, more recently, banners on popular websites. The advertising industry was interested in advanced metrics before it was all the rage. The Don Drapers of the world have long cared about target audiences, key demographics, and ratings. Getting a message across not just to many eyes, but to the right eyes, is an accurate (and lucrative) science. However, you don’t need algorithm-based analysis to understand why a Super Bowl ad slot is the most coveted and expensive 30 seconds on television.
Buying media during the Super Bowl is an extremely effective way to reach a large group of people. The game has become an event with people from all over the country hosting watch parties that frequently attract even non-football fans. Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 had an estimated 114 million viewers, making it the most-watched television event in US history, beating the record set by the previous year’s game. This growing audience has allowed the networks that broadcast the game to demand ultra-premium prices for their advertising time. The cost of a 30-second slot during the first game in 1967 was $ 36,500 (approximately $ 265,000 in today’s dollars). The cost of a 30-second slot in 2015 averaged a staggering $ 4.5 million.
Ads have become a cultural phenomenon in their own right. In fact, it’s not at all uncommon these days to hear people say things like “oh, I just watch commercials.” In fact, the cultural significance is part of the reason the prices are so high. There is no other television event where people talk about advertisements at work the next day. There are now entire shows dedicated to analyzing and critiquing ads (it is not known how much a 30 second ad costs during those shows). This echo chamber effect means that a good plug could potentially be invaluable (and even the bad ones are talked about). A good place can put a business on the map and some of the best have become icons within the industry.
An early example of an iconic place is “Mean” Joe Greene’s job for a certain soda. Joe Greene tosses a boy a T-shirt after a game, disproving his nickname. While the ad technically aired a few months earlier, the Super Bowl immortalized it, in part because Joe Greene’s Steelers were playing (and won) that game. Elsewhere now famous, a computer company hired Hollywood director Ridley Scott to do a 60-second commercial that ran in 1984 for George Orwell (not coincidentally, the year it aired) and had hints of “Blade Runner “by Scott. The dystopian and mute futurism of the competition was crushed by a racer wielding a mallet, the opening salvo in the PC ad wars.
With so many viewers and so much hype, it’s not hard to see why soccer’s biggest stage has become the holy grail of media buying.