Oh sure, $3.5 million sounds like a high price to pay for the privilege of airing a 30-second bar joke. But hold your shock at the sticker price of a Super Bowl spot. If anything, blame NBC for not charging more. Super Bowl ads are almost certainly too cheap.
Let's talk philosophy before we get to the math. The purpose of any ad is to get the attention of people with money. U.S. advertising is a $600 billion ploy to distract you from your life and get your eyes and ears focused on a brand or product. Every day, the typical American is exposed
to up to 600 advertisements on televisions, buses, streets, and browsers.
How could you possibly focus on an ad every two minutes? You couldn't, possibly. Most ads pass through our awareness like radio waves. Still more are fractured across an awfully decentralized media environment. Fifteen years ago, if Toyota wanted to get the attention of a Washington Post reader, it could buy a page in the A1 section and consider its work done. Today, there's the Post, the morning paper Express, the website, the iPad app, the smart phone app, and so on.
Compared with this confusing ad climate, imagine a television event. Imagine that more than 100 million Americans are watching at the same time. Imagine that instead of trying to avoid ads, tens of millions of these viewers actually look forward to watching slickly produced marketing segments. Imagine that after this 100-million-person event, where your advertisement is watched with hushed reverence, most of those people will go to work on Monday to do something totally bizarre. They will talk about advertisements! Now ask yourself how much would you pay to buy a slice of this veritable Super Bowl of advertising.