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Super Bowl LV: How the price of commercials rose over the years

Brian Pincus, Natalie Sutton and Tyler Greenawalt
·2-min read

It’s hard to imagine a Super Bowl without the iconic commercials that come with it. Some of those ads became almost as memorable as the game itself.

But that wasn’t always the case.

The average 30-second commercial cost between $37,500-$42,500 during Super Bowl I in 1967, according to Superbowl-ads.com. And while the popularity of football’s biggest game rose, so too did the price of air time and the ambition of advertisers.

Super Bowl VIII featured arguably the first “big” commercial in 1974. New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath and Charlie’s Angels star Farrah Fawcett starred in a shaving cream ad for Noxzema. It cost $42,000 to produce and $103,500 to air – more than double the price from just seven years earlier.

The price continued to double again every five-to-six years as viewership increased. When “Mean” Joe Greene's famous Coca-Cola commercial aired in 1980, the average 30-second spot cost $222,000 for Super Bowl XIV and its audience of 76.24 million people. Apple’s “1984” ad, based on George Orwell’s novel of the same name, cost around $370,000 to produce and $525,000 to make it on-air for 85.53 million Super Bowl views.

Brands ramped up viral marketing campaigns for the Super Bowl in the 1990s, where the price for a spot in the big game finally eclipsed $1 million. Famous ads like Cindy Crawford’s “This is Pepsi,” McDonald’s “Showdown” with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird and Bud Light’s hilarious “Whassup?!” will be remembered forever for their creativity and hilarity.

From a price perspective, though, Crawford’s commercial offers the most striking representation of how much the cost per spot has increased over the years. When her first Pepsi ad ran in 1992, it cost $850,000 for an ad in the Super Bowl. By the second one in 2002, that number rose to $2.2 million. And when the third iteration ran in 2018, companies paid $5.2 million for a 30-second commercial. Viewership, for reference, blossomed as well – from almost 91 million in 1992 to 98.47 in 2018.

The most expensive Super Bowl ad currently belong’s to MGM, who spent a reported $5.69 million on its trailer for the James Bond movie, “No Time to Die” in 2020, according to Variety.

While the price for a commercial in Super Bowl 55 has hovered between $5.5 million-$5.6 million, a few high-profile brands decided not to air an ad this year. Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Hyundai are among the companies that will use their ad budget for more humanitarian causes – including COVID-19 vaccine awareness.

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