Super Bowl Ads Are Designed To Fuel Mindless Buying

Companies are paying $90,000 per second tonight to get their products before our recession-fearing eyes, and they plan to get their money’s worth. Tonight’s advertisers will use an array of tactics designed with one purpose: motivating us to buy their products.

The Super Bowl is the advertiser’s carpet-bombing run. 140 million Americans—almost half the country—tune into the game at some point. Advertisers expect a massive crowd, and we don’t disappoint. Viewership has remained stable since the Reagan era:Average%20Viewers.jpgBut the cost of the average 30-second slot has skyrocketed to over $2.7 million, almost $90,000 per second.Commercial%20Costs.jpgLast year advertisers paid $2.5 million per slot, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see prices rise to over $3 million next year, vastly outpacing inflation. Advertisers willingly drain their bank accounts because they are able to squeeze value from their investment, which is why Fox sold all but ten ad slots by October.

Advertisers are increasingly using their Super Bowl advertisements to drive integrated ad campaigns that send traffic to their websites or other venues. The goal isn’t to micro-target existing demographics, but to use kitschy gimmicks focusing on brands or products to reel in a broader swath of people.

The prize is what Pete Blackshaw of Nielsen calls “monday morning chatterbacking,” a phrase that makes us want to slit our wrists with a Hello Kitty butter knife. Still, traffic to advertiser’s websites does rise by 50% the day after the game. This year, Fox is trying to drum up added synergy with fellow News Corp property MySpace. Advertisers who buy Super Bowl slots have the option of buying complementing ads—quizzes, trivia, junk like that—on MySpace, which Fox will promote during the game.

Super Bowl ads try to pass themselves off as entertainment. YouTube will highlight cutesy ads, and people will treat them as fresh content. Over a third of us watch the game just for the ads, and may even keep an eye open for one or two in particular. That’s fine. Just remember that you are watching advertising. The goal is not to entertain, but to get you to spend.

Super Bowl 2008 [Ad Age]
(Photo: monstershaq2000)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Nothing Can Kill the Grimace... says:

    In other news: the sky is blue…

  2. RottNDude says:

    If you’re going for editorial accuracy, it’s “Super Bowl”

  3. drjayphd says:

    Ads designed to fuel mindless buying? Noooooo. ;)

    I’ve got to say it’s probably one of the biggest triumphs of the industry that they’ve managed to, at least for one night, turn something reviled as an annoyance into an actual entertainment event.

  4. neithernor says:

    Next week, The Consumerist provides definitive footage of a bear shitting in the woods.

  5. Galls says:

    I am a NYer and have no care for this game.

    Fucking Jersey stealing all our teams, and half of elis island.

  6. RottNDude says:
  7. TechnoDestructo says:

    Have any of you ever bought a product you had already heard of because of the ad? Something you were previously aware of, and previously had some idea how and where you could buy it, but then you see an ad and that makes you decide to buy something you were not thinking of buying before?

  8. timmus says:

    It bothers me a lot that only the wealthiest companies can afford to buy into Superbowl advertising. It’s a waste, too, because most of those companies already have metric asstons of visibility and market share. I should take it as a cue to boycott them all and take them off our grocery lists from now on.

  9. bnb614 says:

    @timmus: Are supply and demand new topics for you?

    It isn’t just wealthiest companies. It is whoever is willing to plunk down the asking price. Most smaller companies either can’t afford to, or don’t want to.

  10. Elviswasntmyhero says:

    Day #13,505 and America still doesn’t have (single-payer) Universal Health Insurance.

    “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of [oneself] and [one’s] family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care.”

    Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25

  11. Tracy Ham and Eggs as played by Walter Mondale says:

    @timmus: Some companies use there whole ad budget (or a big chunk of it) for the super bowl, since they are guaranteed eyes (people dont tivo or flip) and people tend to discuss the commercials. Think about Masterlock, GoDaddy, Monster(in the past), Under Armour this year. These companies use the Super Bowl to make a statement that they are legit and people should pay attention to them. Its as much advertising a product as it is advertising the companies.

    Even the big boys use the Super Bowl to roll out new products (think Pepsi Clear or Bud Ice).

  12. Tracy Ham and Eggs as played by Walter Mondale says:

    @Elviswasntmyhero: And what the fuck does this have to do with the article. Go spout your political bullshit on a political site.

  13. bnb614 says:

    @Elviswasntmyhero: And now for something totally unrelated.

    Thank god America doesn’t have single payer insurance. Just what we need, the gov’t that can’t do anything right killing the healthcare industry.

    And you do have a right to an adequate standard of living. But you have to earn it. You also have a right to run up credit card debt, which probably explains part of the reason many people can’t earn what they consider an adequate standard of living.

  14. B says:

    Of course, it only works because we pay so much attention to the ads. Lots of companies are trying to top Apple’s 1984 ad, and hope to get years of free publicity out of one spot.

  15. EvilSquirrel says:

    I love the picture of the Sam Adams with the football helmets. Ironically the only company that can run beer ads during the game is Anheuser Busch because of their sponsorship of the game.

  16. parad0x360 says:

    Im not a sports fan but I used to watch the superbowl with friends just because it was a good time…that and I liked the ads.

    in recent years the ads havent been as entertaining as they used to be so i stopped watching altogether. why would this year be any different?

  17. SkyeBlue says:

    Maybe the headline for this article should have read:

    “Major companies suckered into paying record fees for SuperBowl advertising!”

  18. Tracy Ham and Eggs as played by Walter Mondale says:

    @EvilSquirrel: Im almost positive thats wrong, since I recall the Miller lite catfight girls and the coors twins both being super bowl ads.

  19. dlayphoto says:

    Anything Super Bowl-related gets a big ‘meh’ from me.

    Now, today’s Ranger/Canadiens game…that’s the ticket.

  20. davethebutcher says:

    Damn, now I want a Sam Adams…

  21. humorbot says:

    @timmus: Dude, asstons are Imperial. Stop mixing shit up. And ads are intended to get me to buy stuff?! You so crazy, Consumerist.

  22. Me - now with more humidity says:

    I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell you!!!

  23. IchiroSuzukiSamurai says:

    The more interesting question is how the price of a Super Bowl ad compares not with inflation, but with the price of Super Bowl broadcasting rights. In other words, is it the NFL that’s making out like a bandit here, or Fox? My money is on Messrs. Tagliabue and Goodell.

  24. neithernor says:

    @RottNDude: You just blew my mind.

  25. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @TechnoDestructo: Yes, I have. Usually I have specific brands that I prefer, or generic brands, but sometimes advertisements are useful in distinguishing one brand from another. It works best in cases where there’s a wide selection of products, I don’t have a clear favorite, and there’s no reason not to try one over another.

    I’m thinking specifically of a Miller High Life ad that made me think “aw, that’s clever, maybe I’ll try that.” I was looking for a cheap, mild beer, and I didn’t know much about cheap beer except that it mostly all tastes the same, so the High Life ad influenced me to try that brand first over others I might have chosen. And it wasn’t bad. I mean, it wasn’t good, but for drinking on a hot day during a baseball game, it was fine. And that’s the basic impression the ad gave me: it’s a cheap beer that’s not bad.

  26. faust1200 says:

    I’m totally impervious to advertising. But I need a Sam Adams ASAP! kthxbai

  27. uricmu says:

    Actually, much of the superbowl advertising is aimed towards financial services (ETrade) and business owners (IBM, UPS).

    It’s not like we see the commercial and immediately binge on UPS.

  28. humphrmi says:

    I understand the thrust of this article, but using beer for the picture is contradictory. I think beer advertisers should get a special exemption for making people buy more beer.

  29. HRHKingFriday says:

    Sweet- I’m in. I hated that declaration of independence junk from Fox. Yeah, lets talk about our country’s foundation while shitting on people’s civil liberties and while were scaring up votes.

  30. EvilSquirrel says:

    @Tracy Ham and Eggs as played by Walter Mondale: I am talking about this year. Anheuser Busch paid a bunch of money to be the only beer sponsor of the game for 2008.

  31. bnb614 says:

    If the over/under on Fox showing commercials for their own tv shows is 100, I am taking the over.

  32. hypnotik_jello says:

    Superbowl? What’s that?

  33. swalve says:

    Consumerist editors: there is a fine line between vigilance and buzz-kill. This article crosses that line. Relax.

  34. SadSam says:

    Okay, so far I like the horse and dog beer commercial, because I like animals – don’t drink that kind of beer (Corona Light is my choice). I liked the Audi commercial too but I’m not in the market for a $100,000 car.

    I know advertising on the tee vee must works otherwise companies would do something else with their marketing budget but I don’t see how these commercials really drive dollars.

  35. sauceistheboss says:


    What else is new?

  36. Fletch(er) says:

    @Tracy Ham and Eggs as played by Walter Mondale:

    Anheuser-Busch is the only company that can advertise beer in national spots during the Super Bowl, so their competitors buy up local spots–that’s why you would see Miller ads during the game.

  37. Joafu says:

    Actually, I heard Superbowl ads are supposed to keep us inside while we hoard our money and live off tap water and paint chips.

  38. silencedotcom says:

    @Joafu: That would be Sobe Life Water and fabulous Lays Baked Potato Chips.

  39. junkmail says:

    So far, the Planters Cashew commercial has been the only one to illicit a chuckle. Weak-sauce offerings this year. :(

  40. HRHKingFriday says:

    @SadSam: Yes, but you’re more likely to look at the lower end models if you liked the Audi brand portrayed in the commercial.

    The Sobe ads reminded me of ads in the 90’s. Flashy, but really just full of hot air. DO NOT WANT

  41. redkamel says:

    the only commercials I was ever happy about seeing were Emerald Nuts and Mentos. Oh yeah, and movie commercials, if its an awesome movie.

  42. tozmervo says:

    You mean the nut-shots to Justin Timberlake didn’t do it for you?

  43. DeafLEGO says:

    Have they shown Pepsi’s “Bob’s House” yet?

  44. savdavid says:

    Excuse me, but “Super Bowl” and mindless go together. Grown men running around a field chasing a whittle ball for millions of dollars. People who watch the Super Bowl are just the kind of mindless, slack-jawed idiots the advertisers want to appeal to. Ad funny! Me buy!!

  45. DeafLEGO says:

    The Puppy Bowl over on Animal Planet is more fun to watch that the Stupid Bowl

  46. so a blink’s worth like $20,000-$30,000 on average?

    I vow to hold my eyes shut during every commercial and plug my ears. maybe go out to smoke a cigarette or accompany someone to smoke one.

    nah I won’t. They spend 2-3 million advertising, I may just as well spend $3-$5 on their product (if I have a need for it).

    playtex and gerber just don’t belong in the superbowl

  47. umbriago says:

    Well, the game was so good – what commercials? Can’t remember a one.

  48. XTC46 says:

    @SkyeBlue: “suckered” implies they wont get back what they paid. People talk about the super bowl ads for weeks after the game, there are awards dedicated to best ad’s, and they will receive hundred of thousands of searches on the net. We are talking about the ad’s in general right now, which in itself will cause people to go watch the ad’s just to see what the big deal is.

  49. azntg says:

    @savdavid: Everybody’s entitled to their own opinions, but that’s a real classy comment of yours there.

    Personally, I don’t think this year’s ads were that great, but I do love the fact that the Giants won! Go New York!

  50. junkmail says:

    @tozmervo: Naw, not that I mind Timberlake getting a little sack music, the commercial just ended a little weak.

  51. junkmail says:

    @savdavid: Sounds to me like somebody was always the last to be picked. Poor little guy.

  52. Shadowfire says:

    @savdavid: So I’m stupid because I enjoy watching a sport based in strategy involving a team of grown men devising ways of penetrating the other team’s defense (obvious innuendo aside)? I guess that just makes you an asshole…

    On a related note, I enjoyed some of the commercials. I also do not have any desire for a bud light, a new Hyundai, or a view of They are entertaining, but don’t create an irresistable impulse.

  53. ExtraCelestial says:

    Due to the timing of this article we’re getting an extremely lopsided view of the Super Bowl and its commercials. I personally like (not love) both. With the commercials being almost as much of a draw as the game the only problem I face is choosing when to take a bathroom break. Sometimes I’ll sacrifice rooting for my team to score just so we won’t have to go into overtime. My bladder can’t take it!

    I really can’t say I’ve ever picked a product because of its commercial. I think it’s more general exposure than actual influence. Maybe. Perhaps there are dalmation lovers out there right now that suddenly have an urge for a bud light.

  54. ExtraCelestial says:

    PS that is about all I absorbed from commercials tonight. A Dalmatian/Clydesdale high five and Naomi Campbell’s fantastic legs. So much for that 30 billion per second!


    I usually am able to ignore advertising, but I gotta say that the Thanksgiving Day parade Coke commercial made me want to buy a bottle.

  56. Hambriq says:

    I hate everyone.

  57. savvy999 says:

    I love football; the last game of the year on any level makes me sad.

    This was a very good one, btw. Best since the 2000 SB when the Rams beat the Titans on the last play , one yard short (“The Tackle”).

  58. etherdog says:

    Doh! Well, Marge, what’s for dinner? KrustyBurgers and Duff beer? Great! When this damn game is over we can get back on the air!

  59. miguelggarcia says:

    Hmm… So, ads are designed in such a way so people buy? Really? Are you sure? Hmm… Interesting…

  60. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @savdavid: Gosh, I’m sorry, I just like taking some time out from composing symphonies and curing cancer to do something that doesn’t require 100% of my brainpower.

  61. CurbRunner says:

    “Super Bowl Ads Are Designed To Fuel Mindless Buying”

    Without having to read beyond this mindless headline, please explain to me why any kind of advertising is designed to do anything else.

  62. RottNDude says:

    @CurbRunner “Super Bowl Ads Are Designed To Fuel Mindless Buying”

    Without having to read beyond this mindless headline, please explain to me why any kind of advertising is designed to do anything else.

    I’ll bite. Take a look at the oil company ads that claim they’re looking out for the world, or the Phillip Morris anti-smoking ads, or any other PR-related commercial for that matter. It’s not always about selling a product, but bolstering a brand image or conveying some other message unrelated to the sale of a product or service.

    Not that I disagree that this headline is a bit obvious… but since you asked…

  63. SacraBos says:

    @Elviswasntmyhero: Unfortuanately, the Declaration of Independence only provided for “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. THe NFL only promises you get to watch the Super Bowl at authorized venues, which does not include you the liberty to the pursuit of happines to watch it on a 56″-plus screen at your church. Bummer.

    I don’t recall a health insurance company being advertized on the Super Bowl either. Not that I have every walked into a health insurance company in order to receive health care.

    Also, not to be pedantic about it, but the US declared Independence in 1776, so it’s really Day #84,495 without a single payer health insurance program. Or Day #15,330 where Super Bowl audiences did not have a single payer health insurance program.

    And when did Tom Petty grow that beard?

  64. ageshin says:

    It seems to me that the advertisers themselves are doing more than a bit of mindless buying. Three mill just to air three min. of mindless babble. We all have spent our lives being told that we want this or that. Our real wants, of course, are never touched, except as hooks to get us to buy things we really don’t want or need. A good Bugs Bunny cartoon does more for us than all the adds in the world, and are a bit cheaper to boot.

  65. ninjatales says:

    The ads weren’t all that great this year.

  66. forgottenpassword says:

    Personally I have no interest in the commercials OR the super bowl. I slept through the whole thing (I work nights).

  67. Elviswasntmyhero says:

    @Tracy Ham and Eggs as played by Walter Mondale:

    Astute question. I’m reminded of that scene in “The Matrix” when Morpheus offers up his famous red and blue horse pills and says “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

    Put another way, what does the prospect of continuing to suffer under the morass of a corporate-controlled health care “system” have to do with consumers on a day when most of them will be mindlessly distracted, trained like Pavlovian animals to salivate on cue and sedated with junk food?


    “The immediate goal is to make sure there are more people on private insurance plans. I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.”

    –George W. Bush

  68. jodles says:

    i’m studying abroad in london and while they showed the game on bbc two, there were no commercials!! i guess it makes sense because it wasn’t fox airing the show here, but there was literally a british man talking about the game during all of the commercial breaks. he also talked through part of hte half-time snow.

    not gonna lie, i was hoping to see some commercials.

  69. Trailboss says:


    Elvis: I think you need to learn the difference between a “right” and an “entitlement”. Rights are conferred by God, as in the right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. Rights are yours because they confer no obligation on another to provide it. You have a right to free speech: but I dont have to provide you with a microphone, amplifier or podium. You have a right to life: but that confers no obligation on me (or anyone) to provide you with a new heart or kidney.

    Entitlements are bestowed by Government. They DO confer an obligation on another to be provided. You may have a job in our country, but if you lose it you are (most cases)entitled to unemployment. You may be entitled to welfare or other benefits…but that confers an obligation on everyone else to pay into those systems to make it possible.

    You do NOT have a RIGHT to universal healthcare. That confers an obligation on everyone else to pay for it. Get a job with benefits! Create some new product or service and earn the money to pay for healthcare YOURSELF! Don’t expect the rest of us, who are self-sufficient in that respect, to pay for YOUR healthcare.

  70. homerjay says:

    @savdavid: hey, I know you. I used to beat you up in high school.

  71. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    I thought the term “Super Bowl” was copyrighted by the NFL. I don’t think this is “fair use” if we’re going to sit here and badmouth the advertisers.
    Because when we badmouth the advertisers, aren’t we badmouthing the consumers who support them and ultimately create them?
    And if we’re badmouthing the consumers, aren’t we badmouthing the entire country?
    I for one am not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America!
    [Shuts off computer and goes off to work, humming the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”]

  72. Chairman-Meow says:


    Ok Elvis, riddle me this:

    What’s your solution to Healthcare?

    How would you set it up so that it is fair across the board ?

    Who’s going to pay for it (other than “the rich” ™)?

  73. Ben Popken says:

    @Elviswasntmyhero: Off-topic.

  74. pibbsman0 says:

    Thanks, Mr. Romero.

  75. IrisMR says:

    No seriously, companies use advertisement to make us buy stuff?

  76. econobiker says:

    I am also fairly sure that Pete Blackshaw of Nielsen uses the term “synergy” at least two times a week…

  77. nuch says:

    @TechnoDestructo: I started going out of my way to buy Dove products over competing brands after they started their “campaign for real beauty”. Yes, I know, their parent company owns Axe – a company that runs advertisements as a polar opposite to Dove’s – but I feel like something is better than nothing, and I’d like to support their efforts in the hopes that an overwhelmingly positive response would result in other advertising reflecting the same ideas.

  78. Tonguetied says:

    It didn’t feel to me that the ad companies really tried this year. Pretty pedestrian stuff. A few nice ones but otherwise same ole crap.

  79. Me - now with more humidity says:

    Bud Light. Suck One!

  80. SacraBos says:

    @danisaikou: Dove is still doing good. Women want real beauty, women SHOULD feel beautiful about themselves. Without all that air-brushing and anorexic models. So support their efforts.

    Men want to foolishly believe that some spray product will be make them irrestistable to women. Or that beer will make them irrestistable. Or that car. So please, continue to buy Dove products, at least for the ego’s of men everywhere.

  81. Shadowman615 says:

    This must be the mom-telling-you-to-look-both-ways-when-you-cross-the-street brand of consumer advocacy.

  82. clevershark says:

    Aren’t ALL ads designed to promote mindless spending?

  83. firesign says:

    this just in: advertising has been found to be designed to sell stuff! film at 11!

  84. Elviswasntmyhero says:




    @Ben Popken:

    Onward then.

  85. StevieD says:

    I remember the Budwiser commercials. I really liked the Hank (Training) commercial.

    PS: I don’t drink beer.

    PSS: Were there other commercials? I don’t remember them. Must have been a waste of $ doing the commercials if I don’t remember them the next day.