It’s nearly an annual game in itself: Which commercial broadcast during Super Bowl LVI was the best, the most talked about, and the most effective for achieving the brands’ goals? And as we do every year, we ask, Are they worth the costs?

A lot of chatter centered on Coinbase’s QR code, which bounced around on the screen for a confusing, hypnotic, and expensive 60 seconds, giving Gen Xers a flashback to the 1980s video game Pong while revealing nothing about the company itself (it’s a cryptocurrency exchange platform, if you were wondering). Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen were charming, funny, and memorable as they reminisced about fictional moments from their long friendship, in a Lay’s commercial. (Spoiler: Rogen buys a haunted house, then the commercial’s big reveal is that the heart-to-heart is taking place at his wedding to the ghost.) Lindsay Lohan is back too, in a commercial that shows her making good life decisions as people ask what’s gotten into her—the advertisement is for the gym chain Planet Fitness.

But to procure for these celebrities, high production values, creative advertising ideas, and then the ad time itself, a Super Bowl ad does not come cheap. This year saw rates of as much as $7 million to for one 30-second slot—the highest ever—even before accounting for production costs, like the combined price of hiring Tommy Lee Jones, Leslie Jones, and Rashida Jones, to all star together in a truck commercial (obviously, called “The Joneses”).

It might seem hard to imagine that the big expenditures are worth it, but the companies clearly think so. NBC sold out each available advertising slot surrounding the game. But analysts hedge their assessments a bit more, noting, “It’s got to be a good ad. They need to have clear objectives that they want to achieve.” Such objectives in turn require calculable metrics, which can be hard to define. What constitutes a good investment, when it comes to a Super Bowl ad? According to one widely cited Super Bowl advertising expert, “An uncomfortable aspect in marketing is that calculating the true return on investment is always elusive.”

Discussion Questions

  1. What metrics should marketers use to calculate the return on their investments in Super Bowl ads? Is this measure elusive, according to what you’ve learned?
  2. What makes for a good Super Bowl ad?
  3. Why do companies put celebrities in their Super Bowl ads?

Source: Santi Briglia, “The Commercial that Won the Super Bowl Was…,” RetailWire, February 14, 2022; Mike O’Brien, “Super Bowl Ads Cost Millions of Dollars. Are They Worth It?” ClickZ, February 5, 2019; Jo Craven McGinty, “The Return on Investment for 2021 Super Bowl Ads,” Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2021; Abigail Dove, “Why Do Companies Spend Millions on Super Bowl Ads?”  CBC Kids News, February 11, 2022; Alex Weprin, “NBC Sells Out Super Bowl LVI, Hitting $7M For 30-Second Ads,” Hollywood Reporter, February 3, 2022; Chaim Gartenberg, “Coinbase’s Bouncing QR Code Super Bowl Ad Was So Popular It Crashed the App,” The Verge, February 13, 2022; Janet Nguyen, “Are Super Bowl Ads Still Worth the Cost?” Marketplace, February 11, 2022