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Cultural Phenomenon: Amazing Reach of Super Bowl Ads

Updated: Jun 13

This year's Super Bowl will attract an estimated 120 million viewers, making it the second-most watched broadcast of all time - after the moon landing in 1969.

Super Bowl 2024 logo

There will be 70 big-budget commercials interspersed throughout the game, with each advertisement costing a whopping $7 million per 30-second slot. And yet, unlike all other nights when commercials are normally considered to be a hinderance to our enjoyment, millions of viewers love these ads.

Apple's '1984' commercial is regarded by many as the turning point for Super Bowl advertising. Directed by Ridley Scott, the commercial possessed a cinematic quality unlike anything seen in commercials at the time and is credited with establishing The Super Bowl as a marquee event for ambitious advertising projects. Since then, Super Bowl ads have become works of spectacle, 30-second micro-films with equal focus on entertainment value and marketing message.

On most nights, we dislike advertising, but on The Super Bowl, it seems that enormous numbers of viewers really do cherish these ads. A recent YouGov survey found that 14 percent of viewers consider "the commercials" their favourite part of The Super Bowl. That may not sound like a lot but, if 120 million people watch this year's Super Bowl, roughly 17 million will be particularly lapping up the ads.

Indeed, Super Bowl ads have become an object of cultural celebration, with a reach that greatly surpasses most movies and TV shows. Consider the collective hours spent viewing a single year's Super Bowl commercials. Assuming a base of 120 million viewers watching 70 advertisements with an average length of 40 seconds per ad, that tots up to nearly 79 million hours of total watch time for this year's commercials' That's 9,056 years worth of human time dedicated to the wonders of Doritos and Mountain Dew. And that doesn't even include their afterlife on YouTube.

In a world of ever-multiplying streaming services and infinite TV content, few people watch the same thing at the same time. That's part of what makes The Super Bowl so special. Gone are the days when high-profile TV shows used to be an event, such as M*A*S*H's 1983 television finale which attracted 106 million viewers, or Seinfeld's 1998 finale which pulled in 76 million viewers. Compare these numbers to Succession, arguably the finest show in recent memory, which saw an average of 8.7 million viewers per episode in its final season (with only 2.9 million watching the finale live).

The Super Bowl and its commercials generate a level of immediacy and interest unmatched by any other media event. Better yet, every media outlet in America will dissect the ads for impact, humour and overall entertainment quality - and then, of course, there will be a series of articles on 'The Best Super Bowl Ads of 2024,' and everyone will read them and talk about them again. And many will no doubt watch them once more on YouTube.


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