Is Super Bowl Advertising Still Worth the Investment for National Brands?

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Is advertising during the Super Bowl still worth the seven-figure investment? That’s the question national brands and agencies are asking, just weeks away from the biggest advertising event of the year.

While the Super Bowl continues to be wildly popular—watched by more than 99 million viewers in the U.S. alone last year—it’s far from the only game in town. More than 200 million people watched Super Bowl LVI in 2022, but that pales in comparison to the recent World Cup, which saw a record 5 billion global viewers and the Beijing Olympics, which was watched by more than 2 billion people worldwide.

As the media landscape evolves, it’s time for advertisers to consider different types of ad exposures and opportunities outside of the Super Bowl, says Greg Garunov, executive vice president of strategic development at Sightly, a marketing technology and media services agency.

“It doesn’t transcend everything else anymore. There is so much compelling content out there nowadays – whether it’s unscripted fiction or just real world happenings,” Garunov says. 

Garunov isn’t alone in his opinion. Anheuser-Busch chose not to renew its exclusivity deal with the NFL this year, although the company will still have a presence during the big game next month. CarMax, Carvana, and Vroom are all opting out of this year’s Super Bowl, in part because of the economic downturn and financial challenges those companies are facing.

Given the industry’s growing fragmentation, Garunov says it’s time for advertisers to look beyond the traditional standards they’ve relied on in the past. 

“The proliferation of on-demand culture has been a big underlying driver of significant traditional events like the Super Bowl and The Academy Awards losing their relevance. The ‘water cooler’ talk is no longer reserved for Monday mornings after a big game or episode of Game of Thrones. These conversations are always happening because people just go for whatever they want whenever they want,” Garunov says.

The changes Garunov describes have had an indirect impact on big tentpoles—the events, holidays, and cultural celebrations advertisers have traditionally wanted to run their campaigns around. Broadly speaking, tentpole events don’t carry the same panache they once did.

“At the risk of American blasphemy, personally, I think football is just getting more violent and rowdy which turns me off,” Garunov says. “It feels like we’re headed towards a future where football will be more like Nascar or Formula 1 with teams of engineers tinkering with their star robot QB and maximum throwing strength or the robot linebacker and its personal jet thrust to see how hard it can hit instead of wondering how much gas does Tom Brady have in his tank.”

Rather than spending millions on Super Bowl campaigns, Garunov believes brand advertisers should be considering digital, interactive channels like TikTok, podcasts, and CTV. Not only are these channels more innovative and forward-thinking, but they also reach consumers earlier in the decision-making process, which has been shown to have a more significant impact on sales.

“Strategic decisions like communications platforms, core marketing pillars, a data-driven and weighted approach to budgeting and channel selection, and the intersection of the creative with the content its adjacent to, just to name a few, oftentimes will have a multiplier effect on ROI and LTV in particular, [moreso] than simply choosing which tactics to go with and calling it a day,” Garunov says.

Investment decisions have gotten more complex for brands and agencies, as well. From a strategic perspective, reach and frequency still reign supreme for most marketers. 

Although small to mid-budget advertisers still look up to their larger competitors to see how they can optimize their marketing impact, Garunov says a lot of the conversations after ad campaigns today end up looking at the efficiency of reach, frequency, and cost as the basis for future investment. 

“The problem with fragmentation is that there is just no great view into proper cross-channel metrics. The content producers and distributors have gated their audiences in such a way that it’s very challenging to get an accurate holistic view of the impact of all marketing activity,” Garunov says. “So where does that leave marketers? My advice is to be deliberate, clear, and consistent in what you’re looking to do. Avoid knee-jerk reactions if something doesn’t work overnight, and stop leaning on procurement for decisions that shouldn’t have anything to do with advertising – like strategy, technology, and most importantly cultural impact.”

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.