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super bowl spots: does big spending guarantee brand buzz?

The Super Bowl is coming up this Sunday, and millions of people around the globe are expected to tune in for the big game. But not all of us are there for football. Some come for the chicken wings or the Pepsi Halftime show, and just as many of us are here to see what has often been the best part of the game: the commercials.

For brands that decide to advertise during the Super Bowl, it comes with a very hefty price tag — $6.5 million for a 30-second spot, on average. But it also comes with tremendous upside: the eyes of, potentially, 117 million people watching and listening to what your brand has to say.

But is it worth it?

The thing about a Super Bowl spot is that it is about brand exposure. It’s about the swagger of showing that, “we can do this, so we will.” It’s about being seen and heard amongst some of the most impactful brands in the world, on one of the biggest stages in television. In the world of branding and advertising, so much of our decision making is driven by variables like data, segmentation, optimization, KPIs and the like. But with an audience ranging in ages, incomes, ethnicities and more, the Super Bowl instead focused on key buckets of human emotions; cool, funny or moving.

Some brands take the star power approach, saying very little about the brand or product but leveraging celebrity endorsement to generate buzz. Other brands take the “Mountain Dew approach,” going to the extreme length of creating something so outrageous, like PuppyMonkeyBaby, that it must create buzz. But some brands take the approach of Apple, the brand behind what is widely considered the most famous Super Bowl commercial of all time: 1984. That spot used a cultural moment to create a cultural moment understood by everyone watching it.

So what is it that makes companies find the value in a spot that costs at least $6.5 million dollars? Because the opportunity to speak to tens of millions of people is for many brands…priceless. It is an unmatched way to capture eyeballs and reinforce a set of beliefs and understanding about your brand. But it is not the only way.

Creating universal appeal is a very strong proposition and a valid case for why brands should aim for a Super Bowl spot. The ability to create a cultural conversation, a cultural moment, that moves people to engage with your brand under a unified umbrella of who you are is a treasured opportunity.

But, that doesn't mean that brands can’t make a splash outside the big game.

Take smaller and niche brands. While they may not always have the budget, many of these brands have the scrappy ingenuity to steal eyeballs away from the big game.

Mint Mobile ran a full page in the Wall Street Journal during the 2021 Super Bowl, calling out the competition for spending millions on a Super Bowl spot, and charging customers too much for service as a result. The message here was still loud and clear, united for all audiences: cellular service is too expensive, for no good reason.

Long story short, in our opinion, it’s not worth it. A message that can attract, persuade, and entertain hundreds of millions of people rather than a single demographic or customer segment is a powerful one. But it is also very possible to achieve unified messaging through other methods than spending millions, and to create a cultural moment that will live on long after the big game is over.

Jeremy Bondy is a Strategy Analyst of Manifesto, A Brand Courage Agency. Manifesto has offices in Milwaukee, Portland and Nashville.


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