Not Just The Clydesdales: Super Bowl 50 & Advertising History

It’s coming. It’s happening in a few days. My neighborhood is going to be full of screaming and cheering and less parking than usual.

 

But my gaze will be fixed on my television in a slightly different manner.

For some time now, I have been focusing my archival energies on the pursuit of preserving commercials and working on the recognition of advertising as something of worth within moving image archiving. While we have officially recognized television, film, home movies, industrial works and other short subjects as worthy of respect, there still seems to be a hard stare around the word “commercial” or “advertising.”

Yes- it is The Man. And yes, it is Corporations. And Consumption. All the “dirty words” that seem to make us uncomfortable and feel like we are somehow disrespecting ourselves and our individuality and relinquishing our rights to choose the things we put on our hair, into our bodies and treat our children with.

But advertising is more complex than this. I believe that there is a highly significant need for better and more extensive preservation (even restoration) of these works because they represent our social, domestic, political and cultural leanings throughout the years.

That said, one of the biggest events for advertising, lying somewhere between the Indy 5000 and the Oscars, is the Super Bowl. In just a few days, all over the United States, bars, homes and facilities of all sorts will be turning their lighted media boxes to the exact same program. There will be enough beer, pizza, nachos, hot wings and other grease and alcohol-slathered snacks to truly make one consider going vegetarian. After all, next to Thanksgiving (the largest eating day of the year) this is the second largest!

So let’s talk food for a second. According to the National Chicken Council‘s 2015 pre-game report, approximately 1.25 billion wings were eaten during last year’s Super Bowl- enough to circle the Grand Canyon 120 times and enough to put 572 wings on each seat in every NFL football stadium. As for pizza, by halftime last year Pizza Hut had broken its digital sales record and had already been named as the #1 food choice for the US during the game. So…score? As for booze, the figure is that 325 million gallons of beer are consumed on Super Bowl Sunday. Many articles say this is overblown and improbable, chalking the number up to the amount that is purchased on the day (not an impossibility). If the number were true, everyone in the US (men, women, AND children- omgz! Not drunk toddlers! They can barely walk anyway!) would have to chug an entire gallon themselves. And while I can certainly see a certain percentage of the folks I have encountered in my life being able to imbibe 10 beers in one sitting (especially light beers), I’m not putting bets on the babies.

So it’s a day of celebration, camaraderie and (it would seem) mild debauchery of some kind. I feel that there is an entirely different post related to this about why advertisers would select a day of drinky/greasy/cheer-ismo as the day to put their best foot forward and place their top ads that they have been working on (and spending the most money on securing spots and time for) but that certainly isn’t the point of this discussion. In fact, what I want to first discuss is who is watching and how.

Super Bowl Statistics

If you think that American Football is a dudes game, you’d be dead wrong. Mirroring the results that I found when I did my research into female fans of professional televised wrestling, the Nielsen demographic data has proven that women are not only active sports consumers, but they are interactive sports consumers. A recent statistic showed that 46% of the viewing audience is female (that’s almost half- guys, did you get that?) and on an even more fascinating level, MORE WOMEN WATCH THE SUPER BOWL THAN THE OSCARS, EMMYS, AND GRAMMYS COMBINED!  To add to this, the social media centered on the Super Bowl has been led strongly by women. As Kat Gordon, founder of the 3% Movement  wrote in AdWeek, “Women watch equally, buy + share in greater #s than men on Super Bowl Sunday. Ads with female appeal = best return on $4 million price-tag.” Of note: Gordon has an annual Super Bowl tweet-up with women creatives that deftly tries to negotiate the historic divide between the way that women consumer/fans are approached by advertisers and the way in which they wish to be approached. Here is the promo video-

The other big adjustment is newer technologies. So Super Bowl 50 (and its advertisers) are making that play to connected-TV devices like Apple-TV, Xbox, Roku and others. Mobile devices and tablets are in high use with the Millennial audiences for viewing sports events year-round, so the Super Bowl programming has made certain that their Jewel in the Crown is no different. But advertising will be a little different depending on the device. As reported in Variety,  CBS required all sponsors to run ads in the digital stream in addition to the straight-up TV broadcast. On the other hand, if you were to utilize a device like Roku or AppleTV, the only ads you would receive would be national spots.

Compared to the 16mm commercial collections that I have been dealing with, thinking about all this is mind-numbing. I have always had a slight interest in American football because they continued to film on 16mm up until 2014 when they went digital. So the discussion of digital outreach and audience visibility through mobile applications is a big step in my mind for the NFL.

So let’s get down to content stats before we go all historical.

The National Retail Federation reports that this year it is likely that there will be a viewing population of approximately 188.9 million folks who will be checking out the Denver Broncos play the Carolina Panthers. About 34.7% (85 million) view the game as the “meat” of the day, while 17.7% (43.4 million) are there to check out the commercials. The other 4.5% (11 million)? They’re just there for the food, man.

Now let’s look at the way these commercials are being watched. Are they being glossed over? Talked through? Is that when you go grab another beer or head to the privy? 78.6% said that they think of the ads as entertainment (whether the definition of “entertainment” deserves a more critical look is another story) and 17.5% of viewers say that they see these commercials as informative. The remaining 10.3% say that the ads definitely influence their desire to purchase a product.

Considering the history of Super Bowl ads, I can definitely understand that 10.3%. I mean, look at this Snickers ad from 2010. Betty White AND Abe Vigoda (RIP)? I’m sold.

If I was old enough to drink wine in 1980, I would most certainly have bought it from a classical music-testifying Orson Welles!

And there is no way you could talk me out of buying a car that is being sold to me through the spirit of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. That would be MADNESS (note: this is from 1969, 2 years after Super Bowl I)

History

Ok. So this year is Super Bowl 50. And it’s being played in San Francisco, making every one of my friends who lives there incredibly frantic. In fact, some have decided to just leave town for the weekend. I don’t blame them. I’m not entirely sure how they plan to fit that many people in a city that small, but good luck to them. Game on, right?

The first game was played in 1967, between the NFL and the AFL (American Football League), and was not called the “Super Bowl” for a few more years. Until 1972, the Super Bowl wasn’t even broadcast nationwide (I KNOW. CAN YOU IMAGINE. AND WE USED ROTARY PHONES THEN TOO). Super Bowls I-IV were blacked out in the host cities, plausibly to force the fans to actually attend in person. A bizarre event happened during the first Super Bowl that some might conjecture foretold of how interrelated the Super Bowl and advertising were to be. As Robert Klara describes it, “Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi threw a fit when the second-half kickoff had to be done over. The reason? NBC held off returning to the game until after it aired a commercial for Winston cigarettes.” Out of the many anecdotes about live television I’ve heard/read, this might be one of my favorite because it was a live sporting event that is now one of the largest in the country. And they re-did the kickoff due to a commercial break. 1967, folks, Winston cigarettes.

This isn’t the ad that they showed (this one is from 1968) but it was too good not to include as an example of a “late 60s Winston ad.”

Advertising changed for the big game when star quarterback Joe Namath appeared in a very steamy Noxzema commercial for the 1973 Super Bowl with a pre-Charlie’s Angels Farrah Fawcett. The Noxell Corporation (also owners of Cover Girl) were at the tail end of a very sexually-charged campaign for Noxzema products that had featured a former Miss Sweden and some highly suggestive language. This ad fits in quite well with that theme and sparked the match that the Super Bowl/advertising industry needed to light their partnership fire.

That same year, another ad ran with an unknown young actor and he (and his leather jacket and “Eyyyy!” attitude) became pretty famous soon thereafter!

Cost

So how much does all this run?

AN INSANE AMOUNT OF MONEY. People say it costs a great deal, you can read the numbers, but it’s beyond what you would think. In fact, the best way to describe how much ad space for the Super Bowl costs is to tell you how much it has cost through the years and do comparisons.

So the year that it began- 1967- a 30-second spot cost $42,000. Twenty years later, in 1987, people were shelling out a hefty $600,000 for :30. For Super Bowl XLI in 2007? It was $2,600,000. At this point, advertisers are currently paying $160,000 A SECOND to advertise on the Super Bowl.

So why is this, aside from everyone loving sports and the Super Bowl becoming a massive National Cultural Event? The Big Kids got involved and they put their money where their mouths were. And, like advertising is, it became a massive competition to see who could do the best and freshest work, produce the most effective product that would get results for their clients. And more clients got involved as time went on. And bigger clients. So instead of smaller ads like this Wild Kingdom bumper from 1969

they garnered much larger ones like the now-famous Clydesdale/Budweiser ads.

It was at this stage in the Super Bowl/Advertising Game that they began to get some very interesting content as well.

I have a personal love for this Xerox commercial from 1976. But it’s incredibly nerdy and so am I.

And of course when you pair up a huge star like Mean Joe Greene with a kid, add some heart to the ad, and put it within the Coca-Cola landscape? Yeah. You have a winner. This is well-remembered as one of the best Super Bowl ads. And it’s held up.

One of the most legendary commercials to run during the Super Bowl is the Apple Commercial directed by Ridley Scott. It aired on January 22, 1984 and (contrary to popular belief) did run more than once but was not a regularly programmed spot by any stretch of the imagination. It is still incredible.

Big clients. Big names. Big money. And the Super Bowl gets bigger and bigger.

And advertising for the Super Bowl gets better and better through the years. I would argue that the thoughts and considerations I have been having on modern American advertising do not seem to apply to the Super Bowl advertising spectrum. Many of today’s standard ads do not seem to carry the same narratives, diversity and engaging fun that is present during the ads of the 70s, 80s and 90s, even up until the early ’00s. But the Super Bowl ads…well, that’s when everyone (literally) brings their A-Game. They all seem to have wit and swagger of some kind.

February 7, 2016

Clearly I am going to watch the Super Bowl mainly for the commercials (as you have probably guessed by now). I am BEYOND excited that Squarespace seems to know that I’m a commercials whore and love comedians Key & Peele, and they are providing me with a way in which to have the best time ever on Sunday, which rocks.

It will probably be me and my cats. I might yell and scream at the TV too, just like any DudeBro, but it’s going to be advertisement related. BECAUSE I’VE SEEN THE TEASER/TRAILERS FOR SUPER BOWL 50 AND THEY’RE WILD.

There are a few ads for Super Bowl 50 that I am really looking forward to based upon seeing the teasers. This is the major one. I love the Snickers ads. They are so clever & they star my favorite people. The #EatASnickers campaign is really great.

This one looks pretty great too…

Also these:

And there are more. Maybe I’ll do a top 10 faves when #SB50 is over.

For now, I’m going to also leave you with a few classic faves because, well, THEY’RE GREAT COMMERCIALS. I hope you enjoyed this piece as much as I enjoyed dorking out about what is pretty much one of the biggest days of the ad year. Have a good one folks!

Legacy Super Bowl Ads – Personal Faves!

Evil Beaver. So much yes. Maybe not as an ad, but I can’t help myself. LOVE.

I still don’t even believe this is real but…it is. “Start living again!”

Oh, Holiday Inn…

CLASSIC.

Magic Mountain appearance!

And you’ll never beat Spuds Mackenzie. Party animal!!!!

 

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1 Comment

  1. A discussion of Super Bowl advertising should definitely include this very subversive spot by E-Trade, spoofing the very notion of the event commercial:


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