Even in the era of fragmented media, as more people eschew traditional television in favor of digital streaming, big brands see more value than ever in a Super Bowl commercial.
AdAge crunched the numbers and reported that advertisers spent $377 million to get air time in this year's game—that's more than the $229 million spent on Super Bowl ads in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s combined.
To date, advertisers have plunked down $4.5 billion ($5.9 billion, adjusted for inflation), including this year's record-setting total.
By now, it's no secret that the "game behind the game" is the battle for the buzziest ad spot. But in the early years, as AdAge editor Ken Wheaton says, "Marketers rounded up whatever ads they had going, they didn't know if the Super Bowl was going to be a thing. Now it's a spectacle, you break an ad during the Super Bowl, you create an ad just for the Super Bowl, to be seen by consumers and also your stockholders."
You might think that with the rise of social media, and many companies opting to release their ad early on YouTube, the value of airing one during the game has faded. But for major brands that viewers are so used to seeing each year—think of Budweiser (BUD), Pepsi (PEP) (title sponsor of the halftime show), or the biggest automakers—it's almost a reputation detriment to be absent from the commercials.
Wheaton expects ads to revert back to humor this year, after a streak of heartstring-pulling marketing. "The last few years we got some serious, emotional ads, some a little preachy," he says, "but when everyone's doing it, it loses impact. So I think we're going to see a move this year back to more lighthearted fare."
The cost of a Super Bowl ad is also up, up, up, after falling in 2007 and again in 2010. Since 2010, it has gotten pricier every year; this year, a 30-second spot runs companies some $5 million. For that price, advertisers get not just their live "moment" but for the first time, their ad streams live online, for free, for anyone not in front of a TV set. It's one way CBS has sought to add value for the big expense.
The four quarters of play on Super Bowl Sunday are still "where people want to be," Wheaton says. "For a new brand, it can put you on the map if it's done right."
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology.