No matter how you feel about football, it’s next to impossible to keep Sunday’s big game off your radar. And even if you don’t take much interest in the sport itself, it’s hard not to be drawn in by everything surrounding it: namely the advertisements. So much so that oftentimes, viewers around the nation tune in specifically for the commercial breaks.
And that’s not without cause. With the year’s most watched sports game comes a slew of revolutionary marketing, creative new ads debuting before over 110 million people. This year, Fox is charging upwards of $5 million for a 30-second time slot—coming out to nearly $167,000 per second of air time.
Because every slot is so valuable, the bar for the ads that fill them is high. When each second costs 167k, it’s imperative that it captures the attention (and hearts and minds, if possible) of any and all potential viewers.
So, the commercials have become a sort of performance art: showcasing cinematic aesthetics, evoking emotional responses, providing sheer entertainment, or all of the above. They make us laugh, cry, and wonder what on earth we just watched. They’re at pinnacle of marketing, the apex of advertising, the crux of commercials—they literally can’t afford to be mediocre. And for the best of them, it’s well worth it: not only do they sell goods, but they do wonders for brand image. The best ads become cultural staples; trending on Twitter, racking up social media shares, and inspiring halloween costumes for years to come. Thus, over the years, watching these ads has become an American rite of its own.
But they haven’t always been that way. During the early days of this battle of football champions, an ad was simply an ad. Companies displayed their products before a large audience without too much extra thought or effort.
Though in 1976, Xerox created one of the first notable commercials: “Monks,” a humorous one-minute ad in which a monk needs 500 copies of a handwritten manuscript. The public actually enjoyed the commercial, even requesting that broadcasters air it again after the big game. “It was the first viral ad, you could say,” Y&R New York chief creative officer Leslie Sims told AdWeek. This year, they’ll bring back Brother Dominic ad in “Together They Set The Page Free.”
In 1980, Coca-Cola’s award-winning “Hey Kid, Catch!” featured Pittsburgh Steelers‘ “Mean Joe” Greene tossing his game-worn jersey over to a young fan in exchange for a bottle of Coke. The commercial—part of Coke’s “Have a Coke and a Smile” campaign—tugged at the heart strings, winning viewers over by not only advertising a product, but connecting that product to a feeling. Since then, emotions have become a key element in Coca-Cola’s marketing strategy, from their 1988 tagline, “You Can’t Beat the Feeling,” to 2009’s “Open Happiness,” to the present’s “Taste the Feeling.” Plus, since its debut 37 years ago, the ad has been reprised by Procter & Gamble, featured on the Simpsons, and parodied by Coca-Cola itself.
However, the true turning point for ads during the big game was in 1984, with Apple’s “1984.” The ad, which references George Orwell’s novel of the same title, depicts a female athlete destroying a screen with the face of a Big Brother-like figure. The minute-long commercial finishes with words rolling up the screen and a voiceover: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” In an industry then dominated by IBM, this creative, startling, and highly symbolic ad allowed the eight-year-old technology company’s new personal computer to make a grand entrance in the market and marked a new era for television commercials during the big game.
The most shared ad ever was the 2012 commercial for Volkswagen Passat entitled “The Force,” a Star Wars tribute that depicts a child’s attempt to use “the force” to control inanimate objects around him. VW debuted the ad on YouTube one week before the game—racking up 8 million views before it even aired. Its viral success heralded a new age in advertising: the success of an ad was no longer tied to its paid time slot, but could now stand on its own.
Yet, sometimes even the most wildly successful ads can’t save a dying brand. During the 2014 game, RadioShack’s “The Phone Call” arguably won the battle of the ads with a comically self-aware commercial that poked fun at their dated brand. However, even that couldn’t rescue the electronics distributor, which closed up shop at 500 stores around the country shortly thereafter.
It’s abundantly clear that over time, the big game has made its mark on the advertising industry, further adapting to our changing culture and technology with every passing year. We can’t wait to see what the future holds, and what iconic ads come out of 2017’s game.
What’s your favorite commercial from the big game?