What Makes A Great Super Bowl Ad?

The SodaStream ad featuring actress Scarlett Johansson

The SodaStream ad featuring actress Scarlett Johansson

Imagine this: In 25 years, it will cost nearly $10 million dollars to run a Super Bowl spot. That’s a lot of Pepsis, Doritos, and trucks to sell!

And that brings up a question: Why does the Super Bowl – and not the Academy Awards or any other televised event-– draw as many top advertisers and the highest-priced spots?

According to Professor Derek Rucker, an advertising professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, a number of factors have turned the Super Bowl into an unparalleled advertising platform.

For starters, Americans have associated the Super Bowl as a big gathering day. Even if the game wasn’t particularly memorable, the commercials give people something to talk about during the event or the next day. The spots have also become “self-reinforcing” according to Rucker. “Because we’ve watched the ads before and talked about them, that momentum has continued to build and increase over time.”

Second, Rucker emphasizes that viewers really do see the best spots during the Super Bowl. Why? Simple: The Super Bowl has, by far, the largest reach of any televised event. “If I’m going to show up as a brand, I’d better bring my A+ game. That’s just the reality of it.” This, in turn, forces brands to raise their production values to match competitors in the advertising world’s equivalent to an ‘arms race.’

Finally, the Super Bowl falls during the perfect moment in the marketing calendar according to Kellogg Professor Tim Calkins. “It’s early in the year,” which is “perfect positioned to get the year off to a fast start.”  It also comes when marketing budgets have been fully reloaded, so advertisers have money to spend. Socially, the Super Bowl occurs when there isn’t much else happening. “People are home at this time…and they’re ready to listen.”


With the cost of a 30-second Super Bowl ad pegged at $4 million dollars, many brands must ask if the return on investment justifies the cost.

In Calkins’ view, the value depends on the brand. While the Super Bowl offers a high reward, it also represents a high risk. “The thing about a Super Bowl is that you might end up hurting your brand as much as you help it. There is so much scrutiny. There’s so much attention, that if you go on the Super Bowl and you put an ad on there that is dull or offensive or insulting, you do could some enormous damage to your brand.”

Still, it is hard for many brands to pass on the Super Bowl. For many, it is a money-maker. “A lot of people come back year-after-year to advertise,” according to Calkins. “The fact that Hyundai is back means that they think it’s a good investment. And that fact that Chevrolet is back after taking a year off means they clearly thought it was a mistake [not to advertise]… There’s a little bit of competitive pressure to be there to maintain place.”

Calkins adds that a Super Bowl spot is the perfect avenue to break big news, increase product awareness, or change how they think about a brand. “Certainly, if you want to get a big impact on a brand, there’s no place like the Super Bowl.”

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