Super Bowl Ads: How it Began and How it is Going

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The truest sign you’re getting older is when you start to notice your “back in my day” moments becoming more frequent. My latest moment came recently when I had to explain to a student that super bowl ads weren’t always a focal point of the big game or the holy grail of advertisement. The evolution of super bowl ads, as we know them today, took a couple of years with the right combination of high-interest ads and stand out seasons to drive high ratings.

In 1984, a Super Bowl ad for Apple computers premiered that would change the game. This infamous advertisement that showcased a dystopian society disrupted is frequently cited as the best Super Bowl advertisement of all time. The popularity of this ad combined with high TV ratings created a pivotal moment where the event was more than just the game.

In the subsequent years, as fans continued to tune in to watch their team, TV ratings continued to soar. This was most apparent in 1985 with the Chicago Bears. It wasn’t just the one-defeat season dominance of this Bears team that led to their popularity, but also in how they went about doing it. The Bears created the famous Super Bowl song, the “Super Bowl Shuffle” that year. This song was released in the middle of the season with a long way to go before the big game. The dominance and the boldness of this team was the perfect formula for the Chicago Bears to begin receiving waves of publicity, and some may argue resulted in the emergence of the Super Bowl as a cultural phenomenon.

With the 1985 Chicago Bears, viewership soared causing TV ads to double in price and sell out in no time. Some have argued that it was this particular team that resulted in much of the commercial boom centered around the Super Bowl. Over the years, Budweiser TV ads, whether it was Spuds MacKenzie, the Bud Bowl, the Budweiser frogs, the post 9-11 advertisement with their famous Clydesdales, the “wass-up” phone answer, or the Clydesdale “landslide” commercial; these commercials almost became more memorable than some of the games themselves.

A TV advertisement during the Super Bowl would become the sole focus of many companies marketing teams. Coca-Cola (“Hey kid… catch”), Doritos, Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” and Pepsi (coinciding with their sponsorship of the half-time) all have developed Super Bowl commercials that have transcended the game. In 2017, the cost to run a 30-second Super Bowl advertisement had increased to over $5 million with this year reaching the $5.5 million mark.

Sports Business Journal

There has been much discussion over the past 10 months centered on the impact of COVID-19 on sport and how it reflected who we were as a society. Sport organizations have gone to great lengths to keep players and fans alike safe while still enjoying the game. Therefore, the Super Bowl during COVID appears to be different this year. Budweiser, the often-affiliated brand with the Super Bowl has stepped back this year. Budweiser will instead be focusing more of its advertising and social marketing efforts on vaccine awareness.

In our sport management classes, we often discuss how Super Bowl commercials (along with commercials that are shown during sporting contests) provide the companies an association, exposure, and other opportunities to leverage their affiliation to sport brands to help achieve some of their marketing and financial objectives. The big challenge for our students as future sport managers will be to cut through some of the clutter that exists in advertising through promotions of our methods of interacting with our all-important fans who are our consumers.  Pepsi, in its effort to cut through some of the clutter is devoting most of its money toward sponsoring the half-time show and nothing else. 

There is no doubt that there is no better time to be learning more about the business of sport than right now. Whether it is learning about our media consumers or how we can engage more effectively in our sport sponsorships, EKU’s e-Campus Sport Management program covers issues like this and much more in our classes.

By: Dr. Joel Cormier, sport management program coordinator


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