Super Bowl XLVI ads sell for a record-breaking $3.5 million a spot. Is it worth it?

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Image Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For most of us, the idea of spending $3.5 million on 30 seconds for, say, Snickers bars seems like an incomprehensible notion. But for companies willing to shell out the big bucks for a spot in the Super Bowl, it’s perhaps the wisest investment around.

The argument certainly seems supported by a recent AdWeek report, which found that the new record-breaking Super Bowl XLVI price tag of $3.5 million-per-30-second spot didn’t deter companies from spending that sum of money in a volatile economy. Rather, they were chomping at the bit to spend the cash. NBC, which will broadcast Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5, 2012, has already almost entirely sold out the commercial air time. In fact, of the 63 available spots, “perhaps as few as six remain.” 

Not bad, considering the price tag on Super Bowl ads has increased almost $1 million since 2009. But if viewer interest stays as high as it did for the 2011 Super Bowl — 111 million viewers tuned in for the Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers match-up, making it the most-watched program in television history — then it will once again be money well spent for advertisers. In fact, if another 111 million people tune in to NBC come February, it would round to roughly $0.32 per viewer per 30-second ad. That’s a deal that proves event television will always be a great investment, no matter what the economic climate. “Ultimately, it has to do with demand, and key advertisers looking to get in front of their consumers,” Bill Carroll, a Vice President of the New York media-buying firm Katz Television Group, tells EW. And there’s an added bonus to attracting a Super Bowl audience: “They’re not going to watch it online. [They're] going to watch it live and thus you’re less likely to not see the commercials.”

Of course, advertisers weren’t always as eager to open their pocket books. While commercial prices over the past few years have all hovered around the $2 million-plus range, the first-ever Super Bowl in 1967 charged companies $40,000 per spot, according to Business Insider. Adjusted for inflation, that price equals a very reasonable $260,000. Still, inflation aside, the increased popularity of the Super Bowl over the past 44 years will likely only continue to rise, says Carroll. And businesses worrying about their futures and whether or not they’re recession-proof should and will continue to invest in the one sure thing in the industry: Super Bowl commercials. “Don’t be surprised if five years from now it’s another outstanding number like [$3.5 million],” Carroll says. “It’s only going to continue to grow.”

After all, commercials are arguably as big, if not bigger, than the event itself. “It’s always the most-watched event on television for the year. It’s also the one time of the year we all talk about our favorite commercial,” Carroll says. “It really doesn’t seem to matter which teams are involved in the Super Bowl.”

Read more:
Super Bowl Commercials: See ‘em Here!
Super Bowl most-watched program in TV history
Is Hollywood recession proof?

Comments (9 total) Add your comment
  • BeBe

    I think its worth it. I remember like two years ago I had no idea what “Hulu” was until I saw the commercial on the Super Bowl for it.

  • adpraisal

    I think it is worth it if (and only if) the advert effectively sells the product and ultimately is a ‘good ad’ (meaning debatable!). However, if the advert is awful, viewers are just going to switch channel or even be put off the product.

  • Phil

    I’m not saying this is a bad deal for advertisers to spend $3.5 mil per 30 sec. commercial, but the reason why the viewership record broke was because the two teams with the highest fanbases in the NFL were playing in the Super Bowl. Unless it’s a rematch or the Cowboys play the Steelers, don’t gamble on there being 111 million people watching this year.

    • Mario

      It may be that those two teams brought the game over the top, but the game broke the record from just the previous year which had neither of those teams. I think the fact that we’ve had consistently good games in this past decade has had just as much to do with it and this year will probably be in the same ballpark regardless of who is playing.

  • Melissa in CA

    Of course it’s worth it!! How many other shows are there on TV where some people tune in just for the commercials? Zero. I just hope they’re good.

  • Kate

    Have any of the advertisers done a study to see if their business actually improved after airing commercials during the game? If they didn’t have any impact then it wasn’t worth it.

    • Melissa in CA

      That’s a good question. I enjoy the Super Bowl commercials a lot, but I’m not going to drink Budweiser because of clever commercials.

  • Anne

    I’d say based on the fact that site like EW rank the best and worst Super Bowl commercials the following Monday probably means it’s worth paying for the exposure.

  • tresorparis

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