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The Evolution Of Super Bowl Advertising

January 28, 2014

Super Bowl XVIII, held Jan. 22, 1984, was a largely forgettable matchup between the Los Angeles Raiders and the Washington Redskins. The Redskins were three-point favorites going into the game, but the Raiders squashed them, 38-9. 

Thirty years later, as we await the kickoff of Super Bowl XLVIII from MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, it won't the game on the field that we could commemorate. Rather, that Super Bowl XVIII was famous for another, more memorable reason. That was the year when Apple Corporation debuted its now-famous 1984 commercial during the third quarter of the game. 

From that day forward, consumer technology and advertising during the Super Bowl haven't been the same. 

Apple introduced the Macintosh personal computer to the world with its iconic one-minute commercial, which depicts an unknown heroine running to represent the coming of the Macintosh as a means of saving humanity from Big Brother. The commercial was an allusion to George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Since that day in 1984, the interest in the Super Bowl has grown, as has the interest from companies wanting to advertise during the Super Bowl. Entire websites and media outlets have been created for no other reason than to feature, analyze and archive Super Bowl commercials through the years. 

For Super Bowl XVLIII Feb. 2 on Fox, the price of a 30-second spot will once again set a record. According to multiple outlets, the price of a 30-second spot during the game will surpass $4 million. According to Fox and NFL officials, advertising during the broadcast has been sold out for several weeks.

According to a recent study done by Businessweek, advertising rates for a 30-second unit during the Super Bowl surpassed $1 million in 1995. In 2000, those rates increased to $2 million per commercial. In 2014, rates have doubled to $4 million per unit. Following that rate of growth, the cost of a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl in 2040, one year short of the 75th Super Bowl contest, could be $10 million. 

The Super Bowl continues to be the most-watched TV program annually in the Unites States. With viewing audiences approaching 110 million, the cost per viewer remains in line with that of other programming on TV throughout the year.

What can viewers expect this year and what is changing with respect to advertising in the Super Bowl?

• Based on early previews of the advertising that will be running during the game, this year's advertisers have turned to celebrities to star in their commercials. Hollywood stars James Franco (Ford Trucks) and Scarlett Johansson (SodaStream), "The Colbert Report" host Stephen Colbert (Wonderful Pistachios) and global soccer star -- and underwear-posing celebrity -- David Beckham (H&M clothing) will be headlining the commercials.

• Danica Patrick, a NASCAR driver and previous Super Bowl advertising starlet, will return to represent, an internet domain registration company. Patrick will be wearing a muscle suit, leading a pack of bodybuilders to the front door of a tanning salon in an unusual attempt to sell domain names with men who look as if they have been nibbling on performance-enhancing drugs all day. 

• Yogurt fans will be happy, as two leading brands, Dannon and Chobani, will square off with commercials during the game. Who knew that yogurt was a big hit for the game, along with chips, soda and beer?

• Pepsi has once again stepped up its game. This year's sponsor of halftime and musician Bruno Mars showed off its creativity with a popular teaser campaign in which it found the halfway point in the United States -- Milligan, Neb., -- and surprised the small town with an unscheduled concert, featuring rising country start Lee Brice. 

Some of the usual suspects are back -- Budweiser, Doritos, movie studios and more. Companies that have something important to say, or a new product coming out during the first six months of 2014, and have an extra $4 million lying around should be advertising in the Super Bowl this year. 

One of the biggest changes in recent Super Bowl advertising has been the connection to digital and social media. Google is a big winner in Super Bowl advertising, and it doesn't even air a commercial. Google the term "Super Bowl commercial" and no fewer than 17 commercials or teaser ads for this year's game will show up in your results. If reaching more than 100 million viewers during the game is not enough for advertisers, viewers watched 265 million Super Bowl commercials on YouTube in 2013. Moreover, according to YouTube parent Google, approximately one-third of those came before kickoff. 

A new metric of success for the Super Bowl commercial is how many times it's shared on social media, including the day after the game. According to marketing technology firm Unruly Media, Feb. 4, 2013 -- the day after Super Bowl XLVII -- the commercials that ran during the game were collectively shared 3.3 million times across social media platforms. 

That last metric, social media sharing, is particularly interesting 30 years after Apple's commercial ran during the Super Bowl. That commercial, now referred to in terms such as "watershed" and "masterpiece," aired only once. The commercial, which Advertising Age has ranked at the top of the 50 greatest commercials of all time, wasn't shared on other forms of media after it had aired on TV. The estate of the late George Orwell, as well as the rights holder to Nineteen Eighty-Four, considered the advertisement a copyright infringement, and sent Apple a cease-and-desist letter. 

Could Apple be making a comeback during the Super Bowl 30 years later? Tune in Feb. 2 and find out. 

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