The Super Bowl is weird. Three hundred and sixty four days a year, Americans do not seek out advertising for emotional catharsis. But on one Sunday evening, they gather in reverent silence for a national christening of corporate iconography, to celebrate the birth of several 30-second brand promotions.
The Super Bowl is also enormous, a Kilimanjaro looming over the cultural landscape. The biggest cinematic blockbuster from 2016, Rogue One, sold about 55 million tickets. The 2017 Super Bowl’s audience will be at least 110 million viewers. In terms of cultural reach, football’s championship game is twice the size of the biggest blockbuster.
To advertise on such a massive platform costs a massive amount of money. This year, companies are coughing up $5 million (or more) for a 30-second spot.
Is that price tag absurd? Yes and no.
Yes, because for $5 million a company could pay 10 people $100,000 a year for five years of work. That seems better than 30 seconds of D-list celebrities selling snack food (and the celebrities don’t do it for free, either). No, because Super Bowl ads are simply a different species in the advertising kingdom. Companies are not just paying for a large audience. They are paying for silent focus: Tens of millions of people quietly watch Super Bowl commercials and actually talk about their favorite moments of corporate branding. They are also paying for exposure: Super Bowl ads are watched and re-watched—on Twitter, on Facebook, on YouTube, and on next-day rankings and analyses across the internet. On most days, readers click out of ads to read articles online. For one day, they read a lot of articles only to click on the ads.