The two-week Super Bowl ad window


My wife and I have hosted an annual Super Bowl party for almost 20 years now. I remember the first one when our daughter was five. A little before the party started I told her, “So the rule for this party is that you can talk during the game but be quiet during the commercials.” And she replied, “Oh dad!”, as if I was kidding her. But when the game started she saw that that was in fact how we watched. Millions of other people do the same thing.

Nineteen of the top 20 most viewed U.S. broadcasts have been Super Bowls. (And let’s hear it for M*A*S*H!)

List of top 10 TV broadcasts
But unlike 20 years ago, the commercials now have a life beyond their 30 seconds during the game.

Companies start releasing their ads online a week or more before the game. This year’s Budweiser’s ad was viewed by over 15 million people before the game even started. Ads can get a long tail of millions of additional views online after the game, especially with the day-after articles about which were the best and worst ads.

Two years ago Newcastle did an end run with their “If we made it” YouTube campaign featuring Anna Kendrick. This fake ad of Kendrick complaining that she was supposed to make an ad for Newcastle but that they didn’t have the budget to pay for the S**** B*** licensing (she couldn’t even say the words, they were bleeped) received over a million views a day. Google Trends shows that their branded search traffic roughly tripled during the campaign. (The campaign assets have now been taken down by Newcastle, but the video was reposted by another person.)

For 10 years, ending in 2016, Doritos had an annual “Crash the Super Bowl” contest for people to enter their own video of an ad to broadcast during the game, which was another way to increase customer engagement and ad viewership.

And some companies will introduce the ad during the Super Bowl and continue to use it in their usual rotation after that.

Are Super Bowl ads worth the $5 million that they now command for 30 seconds? That price probably tells you the answer: for companies that can afford it, and can fold it into a much broader marketing program, Super Bowl ads are a once a year opportunity to build their brand with a uniquely huge, broad audience.