Here’s Why Advertisers Opt for Longer Super Bowl Commercials

Marketers are embracing the potential of 60- and 90-second ads

a football player
According to Kantar, there were 26 spots that lasted 60 seconds or longer during Super Bowl LIV. Getty Images
Headshot of Ronan Shields

The cost of commercial airtime during the Super Bowl defies economic conventions. Even as audiences splinter because of the increasing number of different media channels—especially given the rise of social media platforms and streaming services in recent years—the cost of advertising in the Big Game continues to rise.

According to Kantar Media data, the price of a 30-second spot rose 107% between 2008 and 2020, when half a minute of airtime during the Big Game set advertisers back $5.6 million. Yet, rather than use such escalating prices as a reason to cut short their screen time, many marketers are increasingly going long.

Per Kantar data, the number of 60- and 90-second spots during Super Bowl LIV was 26, equal to the number of 30-second spots that aired during the game.

Jeremy Carey, managing director of Optimum Sports, the sports media and marketing division of Omnicom, told Adweek that advertisers are increasingly opting for longer spots during the Big Game primarily because it gives them the opportunity to weave a more intricate narrative.

“People have tried to do super-targeted, but when you think of how broad the audience is”—an estimated 100 million people in the U.S. alone tune in—”then you just have to think about the scale, which still has a role in marketing,” he said.

There are few other opportunities where an audience tunes in specifically to see commercials on this scale, according to Carey. This theory is also borne out by data from TVision, which estimates that Sunday night’s commercials achieved 2.6 times more eyes-on-screen attention compared to commercials during regular NFL season games.

Aaron Goldman, CMO of marketing technology company 4C Insights, pointed out that a massive audience gives advertising departments the opportunity to (briefly) alleviate some of the challenges they face in the digital era, such as declining attention rates. “People have now been trained to consume media in 6-second bites, so when you have millions of people tuned in to the same place at the same time, you want to hold them as long as you can,” he added.

Additionally, Optimum Sports’ Carey also said the increased instance of brands taking 60- and 90-second slots is that corporations increasingly deem the Super Bowl as a marketing opportunity, not necessarily a direct response one. “If you’re [taking out ad opportunities during the Big Game] to measure direct sales, then you’re not going to do well. … Sometimes it takes more than 30 seconds to tell your story, and you have to be entertaining.”

In recent years, 60- and 90-second spots have proven popular with tech players—per Bain & Company outfit Hive, Google and Amazon were the only two brands to take out 90-second spots in Super Bowl LIV—with the longer screen time affording brands the opportunity to co-ordinate activations on other channels, particularly social media.

“These longer spots also give brands the ability to live beyond the broadcast,” Carey said. “You don’t want to live in isolation and should be looking at some digital activation.”

According to 4C’s Goldman, marketers have increasingly taken these long-form storytelling opportunities to simultaneously run their ads on social media, a development that has helped marketing departments justify paying such high premiums for media time.

“In last year’s game, Kia ran a 90-second spot and came out on top of all advertisers in the 4C Social Lift analysis, with a whopping 50x increase in social engagement during the five minutes after their spot ran,” he said. “That’s more than three times the next closest advertiser. Of the top 10 advertisers with the most social lift, six of them ran spots longer than 30 seconds.”

Alixandra Barasch, assistant professor of marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business, likewise sees this trend reflecting marketers’ desire to employ omnichannel narrative techniques. For instance, many brands have used social media as a means of introducing their ad to the public with a series of teasers on their social media channels ahead of the game.

“While we have had longer ads in recent years with things like the Super Bowl, you have to create a narrative that requires longer than 13 to 30 seconds,” she said, adding that additional storytelling doesn’t necessarily have to happen on the night of the game itself. “These trends all reflect the changing goals of marketing in terms of capturing attention.”

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@ronan_shields Ronan Shields is a programmatic reporter at Adweek, focusing on ad-tech.