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Despite $4 million price tag, marketers clamor for Super Bowl ads

Chrysler felt so strongly about what a Super Bowl ad could do the company bought two minutes of time for just one spot featuring Eminem in last year's game. Will other advertisers follow the long-form trend?
Chrysler felt so strongly about what a Super Bowl ad could do the company bought two minutes of time for just one spot featuring Eminem in last year's game. Will other advertisers follow the long-form trend?Chrysler

Another year, another record. The ad space available for next month's broadcast of Super Bowl XLVI has sold out and will likely top last year's take. Experts say companies will line up to pay millions again next year and the year after that for the privilege of being part of Super Sunday.

When will making a big buy in the Big Game stop being cost-effective? Probably never. Or at least not until people stop drinking, snacking and most importantly, watching TV.

For marketers, "it’s a huge investment, but it’s also one of the best ways to maximize their time” in front of an audience, said Brian Steinberg, television editor for Advertising Age. “Fewer TV properties have that reach thanks to DVR and the Web. The Super Bowl is increasing, rather than losing, its audience.”

This year viewers are likely to see more long-form ads (longer than the traditional 30 seconds) and more linking to social networks.

NBC will be broadcasting the game Feb. 5 from Indianapolis. The network said this week that all available time during the game is sold out, although some spots in the pregame were still available. The network coyly will not say how much advertisers are being charged, but The Associated Press puts the price at $3.5 million to $4 million for 30 seconds. Less than 20 years ago, a half-minute of Super Bowl ad time cost less than $1 million.

That money now buys the largest TV audience in the U.S. Last year a record of more than 111 million Americans watched the Green Bay Packers beat Pittsburgh Steelers, and many paid close attention to the dozens of commercials aired during game breaks.

This year analysts expect viewership to set another record.

( is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

“There’s nothing to compare it to. Maybe the Oscars or some of the music (awards) shows, but not really,” said Stephen Master, head of sports for Nielsen, which tracks viewership.

Master notes an upward trend that began with the 2001 game pitting the New York Giants against the Baltimore Ravens – two of the country’s largest media markets.

“Now go to last year. You have Green Bay against Pittsburgh. Two storied football programs, but not (among the largest) population areas, and you still have (double-digit) growth. That’s phenomenal,” Master said.

“The Super Bowl works for different kinds of companies. It’s a wonderful venue for companies with a new product since it builds brand awareness so quickly. But it also allows the ability to rebuild or to recast a brand,” said Tim Calkins, professor of marketing at Northwestern University.

Chrysler’s two-minute “Imported From Detroit” spot featuring rap star Eminem in last year’s game was a good example of the latter, Calkins said.

Steinberg said the success of the long ad could influence how advertisers approach the game this year.

“It probably got people (at companies) thinking ‘I can do that.’ ”

After flirting with social media, expect advertisers to go all in this year, trying to tie their spots heavily to Facebook and Twitter. It’s part of the reason advertisers are “leaking” their ads to YouTube weeks in advance of the game. The extended conversation increases the reach of the ad buy.

The recent spike in interest in the game – there was actually a lull in the late '80s and early '90s – is attributable to two things, Nielsen’s Master said.

“More women are watching. It’s not 50/50 yet, but it’s growing,” he said.

The other factor is the emergence of a Hispanic population interested in American football, a fast-growing demographic group that has been heavily courted by the NFL.

This year NBC plans to webcast the Super Bowl live, marking the first legal Internet broadcast of the game. The much-anticipated ads also will be available for online viewing, but not until after they air on the conventional broadcast.

The live webcast is expected to be more of a novelty than a major shift in the way people view the game. In previous sporting events where live webcasting has drawn large audiences, such as World Cup soccer and early rounds of March Madness college basketball, those events have featured multiple games during working hours for most Americans.

The Super Bowl is still very much a “communal activity,” Steinberg said.

“Maybe people will be watching on tablets in their attic someday,” he said.


Check out last year's best and worst Super Bowl ads