Advertisers have forked out up to $7mn for 30 seconds of television airtime during the Super Bowl as cryptocurrency platforms join the usual parade of beer and car companies beaming messages into America’s living rooms.
Media buyers have rushed to book slots for the Los Angeles Rams’ showdown at home against the Cincinnati Bengals — in contrast to a subdued event last year, when fans were warned against holding parties due to coronavirus concerns and viewership fell to the lowest level since 2007.
The marketing blitz during the biggest game in American football will for the first time feature prominent spots from Crypto.com, Coinbase and FTX, giving them a chance to promote crypto trading to the sizeable proportion of the US population that is expected to tune in.
At the same time, several traditional advertisers will be back — including Budweiser, which last year avoided running an in-game commercial for the first time since 1983 and instead made a donation to a vaccine education initiative.
The sum that broadcaster NBC said some companies had paid for a half-minute spot was 25 per cent higher than the $5.6mn average last year, according to researchers at Kantar.
“Things that are in scarce supply naturally become more expensive,” said Mark Read, chief executive of WPP, the world’s largest advertising company. “It’s a reflection of clients trying to build brands: it’s very hard to get mass reach.”
The splurge is the latest sign marketers have confidence that the economic recovery from the pandemic will endure. It is particularly welcome for NBC, given that the broadcaster has attracted historically low viewers for the Beijing Winter Olympics.
NBC said it expected Sunday to be the “highest-revenue day in US sports media history”, generating at least $500mn in combined ad sales across the two events.
More than 30 of the advertisers with Super Bowl slots — about two in five — did not take part last year.
Among the newcomers is cryptocurrency exchange FTX. Its US president Brett Harrison said the ads were part of the company’s strategy to make the digital currencies “universally appealing”.
Crypto enthusiasts “only represent a small demographic compared to the total potential user base”, he said. FTX’s plans include not only a one-minute slot but also a free bitcoin giveaway to coincide with the commercial.
The Super Bowl slots are among the most aggressive examples yet of the sector’s growing marketing clout and threaten to intensify calls for toughened regulation of how the platforms normalise such trading among everyday users.
Crypto.com recently took naming rights to another stadium in Los Angeles and has run ads during the National Football League season that feature Matt Damon proclaiming “fortune favours the brave”.
Demand for Super Bowl advertising from the sector has helped offset relative weakness from companies in others, such as travel, whose recovery is hampered by the lingering pandemic.
The TV ad slots have become more expensive despite a long-term downward trend in viewership. The number of 18- to 49-year-olds tuning in to the fixture has dipped for nine consecutive years, according to Sports Media Watch.
Yet in an era of targeted digital messaging, ad executives said upstart brands and mainstay clients alike are prepared to pay up for a unique opportunity to attract so many eyeballs.
Super Bowl viewers have a highly unusual level of engagement with the ads, a US cultural phenomenon that for some is of greater interest than the game itself. More than four in five respondents to a Morning Consult survey published this week said they paid either “a lot” or “some” attention to the commercials.
Mike Law, chief executive of Carat US, among the world’s biggest media buyers and part of Japan’s Dentsu, said: “There’s arguably nowhere else to get this many people at one time with the attention that you get on the screen.”
He added: “But it comes with a very high price tag, and I think a lot of pressure to deliver.”
Brands that misjudge the mood risk a public backlash, but those that find the right formula are rewarded with broad recognition. Morning Consult found that Budweiser, known for its perennial Clydesdale horses as well as past hits including “Whassup”, had created the most memorable ads over the years.
After a cautious tone at the game last year, which was held not only in the middle of the pandemic but also in the aftermath of the assault on the US Capitol, the commercials will be less earnest this time round.
“Nothing too heavy,” was how Rob Reilly, WPP’s chief creative officer, summed up the approach being taken by most advertisers. “People are looking to laugh.”
Amazon’s spot is a self-parody, featuring its assistant Alexa who has developed mind-reading powers, while General Motors has recast Austin Powers’ Dr Evil as head of the car company.
“This year should definitely be entertaining and comedic,” said Jason Harris, co-founder of creative advertising agency Mekanism. “After two years of what we’ve been through, you want to make people smile.”