How Super Bowl Ads Have Evolved Over 50 Years

Feb 4, 2016

This Sunday, many Americans will huddle around their televisions with friends and family to watch some of the best advertisements the industry can create. Oh, and they'll be watching a football game also. It’s Super Bowl 50 and at the tune of $5 million for 30 seconds of air time, advertisers are lining up with check books in hand. But how has a sports game come to be dominated by its ads? Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer sat down with Duquesne University Associate Professor of Sports Marketing Ron Dick and Marketing Professor Audrey Guskey to explore the history of Super Bowl commercials.

While the Super Bowl is known for great commercials and record shattering ratings, this wasn't always the case. Prior to the Super Bowl,  boxing, horse racing, and baseball garnered more viewership in America according to Dick.

“The original Super Bowl may have sold out of tickets, but you’re gonna find this hard to believe, but not every Super Bowl has sold out of ticket sales,” Dick said.

The creation of Monday Night Football and ESPN, in the 70's, played a key role in football  becoming America’s favorite sport.

However, even with the increase in  football’s popularity, it wasn't until the 1984  when Apple introduced the Macintosh  computer that Super Bowl ads became a major event. The 1-minute commercial, based on George Orwell's classic novel, ran for 60 seconds only aired once, but according to Guskey, created a major splash in the advertising industry.

The success of Apple's 1984 spot resulted in  Super Bowl ads increasing in popularity and cost.  The price of a commercial during the original Super Bowl in 1967 sold for $42,000. That's a far cry from today’s $5 million price point. But with 25% of the Super Bowl audience watching the game specifically for the ads, Guskey says that price point is mere pennies to most companies.

“This is the only mass marketing event that we have in this country,” she said. “We have nothing else where at least one out of every two Americans or more is watching the game.”

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