How Super Bowl Commercials Became a Cultural Tradition
At the birth of the Super Bowl, commercials aired during the game were not the phenomenon that they are today. In fact, they were pretty far from it. During Super Bowl I, the game-day spots were just regular ads aired at a discounted price because executives weren’t even sure if the concept of this championship game would take off with American viewers.. Fifty years later, a Super Bowl championship is the height of a football player’s career – and a 30-second advertising spot during the game costs $5 million. How did game day commercials evolve over time?
In 1973, six years after the world’s first Super Bowl took place, the country witnessed a shaving cream ad that was so risqué, eyebrows would raise even today. The ad featured iconic actress, Farrah Fawcett, football player, Joe Namath, and the tagline “Let Noxzema cream on your face.” Noxzema’s combination of football slang (for being handed a game’s loss), obvious innuendo, and celebrity endorsement laid the blueprint for attention-grabbing game ads to come.
The next big memorable ad aired in 1984 when Steve Jobs was on the brink of releasing his home computers to the market. Inspired by George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, Jobs’ 60-second short film communicated to the masses that his vision of 1984 was not the same. In the ad, a woman runs down the halls of a destitute compound, sledgehammer in hand, as Big Brother preaches through a giant television screen to an audience of what appears to be prisoners. When she reaches the projection, the woman hurls the sledgehammer into the screen, effectively releasing the prisoners from the voice that held them captive. The ad closes with, “On January 24, Apple will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” In the dawn of a new digital age, Jobs made it his priority that consumers not be afraid of his product. Most importantly, Apple’s 1984 version served as a precursor to what commercials had the potential to be — a cinematic experience.
Currently, commercials don’t shy from storytelling, especially during the Super Bowl when every second counts (and costs) significantly more than the average TV spot. The Super Bowl is the one time of year when the majority of America is watching the same thing at the same time, including the commercials. With American consumers fully captive, advertisers like Doritos, and even an overreaching ad like Dodge’s Martin Luther King Jr. commercial, go to great length to make those 30 seconds count.