Analyzing the Big Game Ad Matchups

two hands arm wrestling on a chess board

By Aaron Goldman, CMO of Mediaocean

The action on the field during the big game between the L.A. Rams and Cincinnati Bengals was matched only by the advertising contests that played out during the commercial breaks. Here’s a look at the key matchups…

Price vs. Viewership

At Mediaocean, over $200 billion in advertising is managed through our software on an annualized basis — and that’s everything from television to TikTok — but the Super Bowl stands alone in terms of audience reach and engagement.

That’s why you see the costs continuing to go up each year for the big game. 2022 ad rates were about 10% higher than last year at $5-6 million for a 30-second spot — and that’s just for media.

Typically, ad costs correspond to viewership — the more people tuned in, the more a media owner can charge for the eyeballs. But that hasn’t been the case for the big game in recent years with ratings declining according to Nielsen. This year’s game did see a modest increase but not at the same rate as price inflation.

Why is this happening?

There’s an element of scarcity in play here. Nowhere else on the planet can you find 100 million people all watching the same thing at the same time — and they’re tuned in for the ads as much as they are for the game.

For brands, there’s no better way to introduce a product or reintroduce yourself to the world and show what you stand for.

Past and Future vs. Present

In terms of the ads themselves, there was a lot of focus on the future and some nostalgia for the past. Clearly no one wants to focus on the present amidst a global pandemic going on two years now.

So you have things like electric cars, crypto, the metaverse and a futuristic Flavortown with Guy Fieri for Bud Light Seltzer.

And then you had the throwbacks — a reboot of the Sopranos theme song for Chevy, the entire cast of Austin Powers for GM and a halftime show taking it back to the old school with Dr. Dre and Snoop.

Again, a lot of it is just trying to capture people’s imaginations and transport them to a different and, presumably, better time and place.

Branding vs. Direct Response

One of the biggest questions surrounding big game ads is if the price tag is worth it. Of course, ROI is in the eye of the marketing beholder. But you can’t measure the full impact just on the ad airing alone. Or can you?

One of the stand-out Super Bowl ads was for Coinbase with a QR code bouncing around like an old screensaver or Pong video game. It was a clever way to get people to lean in and take immediate action — so good that it apparently crashed the Coinbase app from too much traffic.

It’s also worth noting was how much advertising was done before the game itself. Reporting from iSpot showed that Super Bowl ads were run 1.4 billion times across platforms prior to the game, which was up 3 times from last year.

So while it is about the game itself and the massive audience it pulls in, by extending the shelf life before and after the game. Using all the platforms like digital and social media to keep pushing your brand, you can really get your money’s worth as an advertiser.

Product Features vs. Brand Values

Another big trend from the big game was virtue signaling. Many brands used the Super Bowl to push messages of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environment social governance (ESG).

One thing we know about today’s polarized society is that people want to do business with companies that reflect their same values. So you have everyone from snack brands to beer brands telling you what they stand for and hoping you’ll feel it in the gut — no pun intended.

Meanwhile you had other brands focused keenly on features and functionality. There’s no bigger stage than the Super Bowl to pull off a product demo. But with such a wide audience looking to be entertained, a balance of sizzle and steak is required.

Overtime vs. Sudden Death

During the NFL playoffs this year, there were some incredible games that remained tied after regulation and ultimately decided in overtime. Much debate ensued over rules that grant victory to the first team that scores a touchdown.

Fortunately for brands, advertising is not sudden death — unless you spend your entire annual budget on the Super Bowl spot. Rather, the big game is a kickoff to a prolonged campaign that can play out over the course of the year and bring a mix of ongoing storytelling and specific calls-to-action that keep audiences engaged and sales driven.

At the end of the day, while there are no easy decisions to be made around the inherent tradeoffs surrounding big game advertising, one thing is certain: next year’s ad rates will be even higher!

Got a Question? We’ve Got Answers.