Brand Strategy

How brands justify the expense of a Super Bowl spot

Brands that are newer to the Super Bowl stage rely on metrics to make their decisions each year, while veteran advertisers grapple with which products to spotlight.
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Francis Scialabba

· 5 min read

Is anyone even watching the Super Bowl anymore, or just stopping by the parties for the buffalo chicken dip? There’s no question: This year’s telecast was the most-watched in history, CBS announced Monday night, averaging more than 123.4 million viewers across all platforms, up about 7% from last year’s record (although we’re not discounting Super Bowl snacks as part of the allure).

That much reach, even during a live sporting event, is rare, and it’s reason enough for some brands to pay the $6.5 million–$7 million required for 30 seconds of ad time in last weekend’s game. Still, the Big Game isn’t getting any cheaper, and for other advertisers, it’s just not worth it.

“The Super Bowl decision by a marketer is a fraught decision,” Kevin Krim, CEO of the measurement company EDO, told Marketing Brew in January. “You’re not just spending seven-ish million dollars for 30 seconds…You’re often spending well over $10 million or more to produce the 30-second spot all in.”

So how do marketing execs decide and demonstrate that investing all those millions in a Super Bowl ad is a sound choice? The reasoning can differ depending on the company, and prior Super Bowl experiences—or lack thereof—may also play a role. We spoke to several about why they opted to jump in this year.

First rodeo

Nerds and Drumstick, who both advertised in the Super Bowl for the first time this year,, approached the game with similar goals: Both were trying to re-energize long-standing brands (Drumstick is 95 years old, and Nerds has been around for over 40), and deemed the Super Bowl the ideal stage to roll out new positioning.

Nerds used the game to promote its Gummy Clusters product, which was released in 2020 and has grown in popularity among Gen Z consumers, according to Joey Rath, marketing director for Nerds Candy at parent company Ferrara. But since Gummy Clusters only have about 15% household penetration, she said, noting that “85% of US households might not have even tried the product yet,” which was part of the business case to invest in a Super Bowl ad.

“We know the Super Bowl is the hallmark event in the US that has the biggest audience,” Rath said. “This is the right time for us to make that bold move, to drive broader awareness, as well as consideration, for the Nerds brand…It’s a way to relaunch the brand.”

50-yard line

For Super Bowl sophomores, proven wins are a helpful metric when considering if it’s worth the reinvestment.

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Hellmann’s, which advertised in the game for its fourth straight year, evaluates “whether or not we are driving the engagement that we are looking to drive,” Chris Symmes, senior marketing director for Unilever North America’s dressings portfolio, told us. While he declined to share specific financial goals, Symmes said increasing conversation around food waste—a major component of each of the brand’s Super Bowl campaigns—has helped convince the team to run it back.

E.l.f. Cosmetics ran its first national Super Bowl ad this year after a regional buy in 2023 performed better than expected, CMO Kory Marchisotto said. But the national stage is much bigger and more expensive, so she relied on past proof points that increasing marketing spend is contributing to sales success. Five years ago, e.l.f. allocated 6% of net sales to marketing, according to Marchisotto, and this year, that’s up to 24%. The brand has seen net sales and market share increase for the past 19 quarters straight, she said.

“What we’re doing by increasing our investment in the brand and how we’re approaching marketing is actually paying off,” Marchisotto said. “Once we were able to showcase that …at a stage like the Big Game, which is the biggest stage we ever took e.l.f. to, proved every KPI way outside of our expectations, the conversation was easier.”

Super Bowl stalwarts

For some companies, like Anheuser-Busch InBev, appearing in the Super Bowl is something of a given year after year, in which case the question becomes not whether to advertise, but which brands make it to the game.

PepsiCo owns Frito-Lay, the parent company of snack brands like Lay’s, Doritos, Cheetos, Fritos, and Tostitos, and this year, Doritos was the only brand from the food portfolio to make the cut, with the Doritos Dinamita line getting the spotlight.

Chris Bellinger, CCO of PepsiCo Foods US, told us via email that the timing of the game and viewership demographic was just right for the product: Dinamita, like Nerds’ Gummy Clusters, is a favorite among Gen Z, and Dinamita Sticks and four new flavors were released just before the Super Bowl. In other words, it was “simply the right play,” Bellinger said.

“The Super Bowl—and the NFL season more broadly—represents one of the most important times of the year for PepsiCo and Frito-Lay,” he said. “We get a lot of value from activating our brands.”

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