US advertisers fight for a place in the Super Bowl spectacle - The big game has become a showcase for the year’s best ads

On 25 January, 160 million Americans will gather round their TV sets for the football highlight of the season. Adland’s finest will eagerly scan the commercial breaks for the year’s hottest commercials, and NBC, which is broadcasting the event, will be laughing all the way to the bank.

On 25 January, 160 million Americans will gather round their TV

sets for the football highlight of the season. Adland’s finest will

eagerly scan the commercial breaks for the year’s hottest commercials,

and NBC, which is broadcasting the event, will be laughing all the way

to the bank.

The National Football League’s Super Bowl has always been a top-rated TV

programme in the US. But its status as a showcase for the year’s best

ads has propelled its advertising airtime to ever dizzier financial

heights. And next year’s game is no exception. Advertising space sold

out in the fastest time ever - by October - despite the record price of

an average of dollars 1.3 million per 30-second spot.

This time, as in recent Super Bowls, Anheuser-Busch will be the biggest

advertiser. Most of the brewer’s eight spots will centre around its ’Bud

Bowl’ competition, in which a football team of Budweiser beer bottles

plays against a team of Bud Lite bottles. The match progresses through a

series of ads, ending in a spot which reveals the winning team.

Pepsi has bought four slots in January’s game, while Frito-Lay and Nike

have bought two each. New advertisers for 1998 include Hormel Foods’

low-fat canned chilli, Network Associates’ Mc-Afee anti-virus computer

software and Tommy Hilfiger, the fashion brand.

But the best creative work is likely to be three spots from the the

microchip company, Intel, which are expected to be tagged with an

Internet address so viewers can respond directly to the commercial. E.

McIllhenny Sons makes its Super Bowl debut this year with an

award-winning spot for Tabasco sauce, which stars an exploding


Bill Croasdale, the president of national broadcast for Western

International Media, describes the Super Bowl as a ’great launch vehicle

for creative work’, adding: ’It’s important to be associated with the

prestige event.

People say, ’Wow, you’ve got the kind of money to buy a Super Bowl


So eagerly anticipated is the advertising spectacle that the day after

Super Bowl Sunday, USA Today, America’s dominant national newspaper, is

scheduled to run the results of focus group research which evaluates

each commercial aired during the game.

Financially, NBC is expected to gross dollars 75 million from January’s

Super Bowl - the 32nd in the series - since buyers have paid dollars

100,000 more than last year per 30-second slot. But ratings are so high

that airtime is not the most expensive per thousand viewers. That honour

goes to other programmes including the NCAA college basketball Final

Four games and the Academy Awards. The past year’s events sold for

between dollars 800,000 and dollars 900,000 for an audience not much

more than half that of the Super Bowl.

Advertisers could, in fact, tap into a male audience much more

efficiently by buying airtime in the two NFL championship games that

determine the two teams that will go forward into the Super Bowl. But

advertisers that buy into the Super Bowl are looking for more out of the

purchase than commercial airtime. Most use it as the culmination of an

extended advertising campaign.

’Super Bowl gets the sales force hopped up and the sales promotions

going,’ Jerry Solomon, the president of national broadcast for SFM

Media, says.

’If you have all the tie-ins lined up, the campaign pays off before the

Super Bowl runs.’

Super Bowl advertising does not come without risks, however. The

creative on the ads comes under intense scrutiny, and some cannot stand

up to it.

Most Super Bowl advertisers are big enough to afford an expensive ad

foray once in a while. But there have been a few small advertisers that

bet the ranch on the biggest single sporting event in the US.

Until two years ago, Master Lock spent its entire network budget on the

Super Bowl. The commercial showed a bullet being shot through a Master

Lock without any effect on its function. The company claimed its sales

soared in the month following the Super Bowl but it is not buying time

this year.

One final reason why sponsors can’t keep away from the Super Bowl is the

involvement of movie studios. Last year’s game featured an ad for radio

shock-jock Howard Stern’s movie, Private Parts. And five studios have

bought airtime for the forthcoming Super Bowl XXXII: Walt Disney, New

Line Cinema, Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures and Warner Bros.

Super Bowl 1967-97

Year             Network                     Households

                                        %share       No (000)

1967             CBS                    44           12,500

                 NBC                    34           10,200

1968             CBS                    68           20,800

1969             NBC                    70           21,000

1970             CBS                    69           23,000

1971             NBC                    75           24,000

1972             CBS                    74           27,400

1973             NBC                    72           27,700

1974             CBS                    73           27,500

1975             NBC                    72           29,000

1976             CBS                    78           29,400

1977             NBC                    73           31,600

1978             CBS                    67           34,400

1979             NBC                    74           35,100

1980             CBS                    67           35,300

1981             NBC                    63           35,500

1982             CBS                    73           40,000

1983             NBC                    69           40,500

1984             CBS                    71           38,900

1985             ABC                    63           39,400

1986             NBC                    70           41,500

1987             CBS                    66           40,000

1988             ABC                    62           37,100

1989             NBC                    68           39,300

1990             CBS                    63           35,900

1991             ABC                    63           39,000

1992             CBS                    61           37,100

1993             NBC                    66           41,990

1994             NBC                    66           42,860

1995             ABC                    62           39,400

1996             NBC                    68           44,209

1997             FOX                    65           42,000

Source: 1997 Nielsen Media Research

Become a member of Campaign

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a member

What is Campaign AI?

Our new premium service offering bespoke monitoring reports for your company.

Find out more

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an alert now

Partner content