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Early Releases of Super Bowl Ads: The Pros and Cons

Photo Courtesy of the New York Post


The trend of releasing Super Bowl commercials before the game is growing as the years pass, but does it enhance or hinder the experience of watching the game live?


Super Bowl Sunday has always been a nationally recognized holiday celebrated annually in February. Every year, the super bowl broadcasts to at least 100 million viewers, making it one of the only events that still garners an audience amid decreased ratings from other significant sporting events, including the NBA All-Stars and the Olympics. This is because the Super Bowl is watched by people who don’t necessarily tune in for the game; they tune in for the ads.


I am one of these people. I am not a sports enthusiast, yet I am excited to watch the super bowl almost yearly. I am eager to be with my family, eat take-out, and watch commercials. I watch the super bowl to be entertained and have fun, and I’m not the only one who feels that way.


According to the Bradley Business Group (Bbg), millions of viewers have “tuned in to Super Bowl Sunday with excitement and anticipation for the 30-60 commercials that companies are now paying up to a jaw-dropping $4.5 million for 30 seconds.” Over the years, the price for having a spot to air an ad on the super bowl has increased. This year, companies paid $7 million for only a 30-second spot.


The rising engagement has caused investors to consider changing their approach to presenting their advertisements. Now, you don’t need to wait till the big day to watch the advertisements. Advertisements are released as early as a month in advance on social media platforms. The early releases have proven to be very effective, positively and negatively.


Early Releases Promote Greater Consumer Engagement


Releasing content earlier helps to promote buzz. It allows the audience to have excitement toward a brand, service, or product that extends past Super Bowl Sunday.  Moreover, releasing content on social media platforms increases audience engagement and helps to generate more significant publicity that can deliver more followers, shared posts, likes, and brand loyalty.


Let’s consider BMW’s advertisement for the i3 car that was released during the 2015 super bowl. The commercial featured journalists Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel inside the vehicle, talking about it as if it were a phenomenon. Their conversation is made to be an allusion to the 1994 news segment on Today, where they discussed the early rise of the internet and the use of the @ symbol in the same way. With how sensational the internet became, BMW promoted the i3 car to have the same effect without directly telling you. BMW decided to release the commercial on the Monday before the Superbowl to increase brand awareness.


“We wanted to create huge reach and awareness for the BMW i3 specifically, and people start looking for Super Bowl ads before the sports event itself,” said Manuel Sattig, brand strategy and communication manager for BMW of North America. 


As a result, the ad reached 4 million views in less than three days and became the most-viewed video on the BMWUSA channel before even airing on TV. In a week, the @BMWUSA Twitter account grew in followers by 42% while the Facebook account rose by 58%. BMW continued its campaign through the beginning of February, and the i3 became the most popular model designed on their site.


TV-Spot: BMW i3 - Newfangled Idea - Official Super Bowl Ad 2015 - Katie Couric & Bryant Gumbel


Furthermore, Bud Light decided to also prerelease a commercial in the same year promoting their #UpForWhatever campaign. In contrast to BMW, Bud Light decided to release its advertisement as a teaser that entailed a guy being thrown into a life-sized Pac-Man maze to align with Bud Light’s slogan of it being “the perfect beer for whatever happens.” The commercial reached more than 10 million views before the game began.


Super Bowl 2015: Bud Light Ad


According to Phil Ciciora, business and law editor for the newsletter of the University of Illinois, early releases help investors make use of their investment as it has become a growing trend. “This is a big trend with Super Bowl ads. When done right, I believe that it can be a very effective strategy because it generates buzz,” Ciciora said. “advertisers are trying to get the most out of their investment, so they find ways to amplify the effect of the 30- or 60-second spot.”


This trend began through GoDaddy.com, a web hosting company, in 2008 when networks rejected several versions of their advertisements for being “too over the top.” Instead of letting the versions waste, GoDaddy.com created a campaign by doing early releases in clips to increase awareness and get people talking about them. Even though the content received a negative response from the media for being considered “too creepy,” the strategy was successful because it received attention from a wider audience. As a result, this has continued over the years, with various companies doing the same type of promotion for the Super Bowl knowing it will garner a lot of attention 


“The fractionalization of attention because of streaming and social media makes the Super Bowl more important than ever,” Patrick Crakes, a former Fox Sports executive turned media consultant, said. “If you're in business with the NFL and advertising during the Super Bowl, you're a real player."


To sum it up, early releases of super bowl ads are beneficial to companies for enhanced social media engagement. It allows the millions of dollars invested to be worthwhile and for the company to receive a separate profit from social media platforms. Moreover, It also increases the probability of content reaching a vast audience from different demographics. Prerelease ads have been proven beneficial for companies, but at what cost?


Early Releases Are Potential Contributors To A Decrease In Younger Viewers


Even though the super bowl has not yet occurred as I’m writing this article, I have already seen the ads. I watched all the currently released commercials on social media as they would pop up on my feed. Even though I still plan to watch the super bowl with my family, I can’t help but not feel as excited as I was before seeing the advertisements. I feel like the element of surprise was taken from me, and I won’t have a genuine reaction to the commercial when it broadcasts. It may not stop me from watching the game, but it may prevent others from doing so.


The super bowl remains the event that millions of people watch faithfully, but it has decreased in their viewership within ten years. According to an article by CNBC, the Super Bowl ratings for viewers aged 18 to 49 have fallen every year for the past ten years - from 52.2 million in 2011 to 34.3 million in 2021.


The chart presents a visual summary of the decrease in viewership. Photo Courtesy of CNBC.


Many have predicted that the decrease is due to the rise of streaming services and younger audiences finding it more entertaining. While I do believe this is true, I feel that it is also due to there not being a reason anymore for non-sports enthusiasts to watch the super bowl now that they don’t have to wait to see ads. Even though the super bowl can be accessed on streaming platforms, with some requiring a subscription, people are not willing to invest in a subscription to watch what they’re not interested in.


The decrease in viewership may increase with rising generations finding their interests in other sources of entertainment. I fear that the decline in viewers may decrease the worth of investing in airing an ad, especially as it becomes more expensive. I also fear it may negatively affect the super bowl's collaborations with the food industries. If fewer people end up watching the super bowl, fewer will invest in buying food and eating out for this sport event. Consequently, It can end sponsorships and means of advertisement for companies such as Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Wing Street, and more.


Will this create more damage to the advertising industry? Will it gradually end all means of promotion for this event? Will the super bowl continue 50 years from today? I ponder all of these questions, but I wonder what NFL will do to continue reaching the younger audience.


In conclusion, the super bowl remains the event that generates the most views and represents the best opportunities for advertisements to prosper. Early releases have expanded the buzz and engagement from consumers on social media. On the other hand, it also gives non-sports enthusiasts a reason not to watch the super bowl anymore. This has caused a decrease in viewership from that target audience and viewers aged 18 to 49. Even though the impacts may not be as prominent now with the older generation and families watching the annual event, it will be noticeable as newer generations become the majority population. The decrease can end all means of sales and promotions from companies if changes are not acted on. If NFL doesn’t consider making adjustments to satisfy the younger demographic now, it will be too late when they decide to do so.

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