Super Bowl Ads Shouldn't Cost Us Our Planet

By Ryan Cochrane

Did you know a 30-second spot at this year's Super Bowl will cost advertisers over $7 million?

It would be surprising if you hadn't. It's an increasing figure that gets rolled out every time Super Bowl Sunday comes into view – usually accompanied by incessant chatter and collective head scratching in the press about whether it's worth brands paying such an eye-watering number for their golden ticket to the Big Game.

But maybe brands should also be factoring a different kind of advertising cost when weighing up their Super Bowl bill – one that's even more significant. The cost to the planet.

You may not realize it, but advertising has a significant impact on climate change. In fact, recent research released during COP27 by Purpose Disruptors suggests that advertising adds an extra 32 percent to the annual carbon footprint of every person.

But we're not just talking about the carbon cost of creating the ads themselves or broadcasting them.

Digital advertising is a major concern. The internet has a larger carbon footprint than the airline industry, with a hefty chunk of those emissions generated by online ads.

In fact, a typical online ad campaign emits 5.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide, according to Good-Loop. This is almost a third of what an average U.S. consumer produces in a year, while one million video impressions has the same carbon footprint as someone flying from Boston to London and back, according to Scope3.

So, imagine the environmental impact of 50-odd brands armed with over 70 ads battling it out for consumers' hard-won attention across a number of different digital platforms during the world's biggest advertising event of the year?

Not just the ads shown during Super Bowl Sunday itself, but the millions and millions of ad impressions pushed out by advertisers across the digital ad landscape in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl – and for the many weeks following the Big Game. The top 15 most viewed ads from Super Bowl 2022, for example, generated 473 million views on YouTube alone.

What can be done to reduce the negative impact Super Bowl digital ads have on the planet? Well, using data collected from Good-Loop's green ad technology, here are our top tips:

1. Make sure you measure up.

Before tackling any issue, it's important to know what you're dealing with first. Before you start implementing anything, take stock first. Measure and benchmark the carbon cost of your campaigns.

The good news is there are many tools that can help you do just that, including industry carbon calculators such as AdGreen, or our own free calculator, which specifically enables brands and media agencies to calculate the topline carbon footprint of their online ad campaigns.

At Good-Loop, we have also launched our Green Ad Tag, which allows advertisers to track and offset the carbon emissions of their campaigns in real time.

2. Reduce the environmental impact of your creative.

With the majority of digital ad serving still reliant on downloading content to the end user's device, the largest contributor to CO2 emissions in digital advertising (around two-thirds according to Good-Loop's Green Ad Tag) is the energy required to serve the creative itself.

That means, just by making a few simple adjustments to the media asset itself can make a significant difference. For example, we recently reduced the carbon emissions of a car campaign by 22 percent (72 grams per 1,000 impressions) just by making some simple adjustments to the asset. Here are some suggestions:

Every second counts.

Shorter video formats have the potential to make a meaningful difference to your carbon footprint. Assuming the ad has the same file size per one second of video, every second you can trim off can help make a huge impact – up to seven times less carbon. However, not all ads are created equal. A very heavy six-second file can cost just as much as a very light 30s. Which leads us to...

Compress your assets.

Can you make your remaining assets smaller? Ads appear much smaller on a digital page, so ultra-hi-res versions aren't needed. At Good-Loop, we noticed that as much as 80 percent of carbon can be saved by compressing file sizes without compromising quality. In fact, it helps drive better UX for the viewer as they'll experience faster load times.

Mix up your formats.

Do all your campaign assets have to be videos? Display formats can emit around 7.75 times fewer carbon emissions than video formats.

Do you really need custom fonts?

Ask yourself, is your custom font really required? Or could you use one of the hundreds of fonts pre-supported by various browsers/devices instead? If you can, then that's an asset that won't need to be loaded, saving up to two percent of your ad's carbon footprint. If pre-supported fonts won't cut it, you can turn your text into a SVG file. In the recent auto campaign, this technique reduced the creative weight of the font by 89 percent.

Focus on your files.

One small change that advertisers can make that can have a big impact is switching your display formats from JPG or PNG files to a WebP. By doing that in the recent autos campaign we managed to reduce the file size by 33 percent.

3. Remove unnecessary ad tech layers.

Up to now, we have focused primarily on the ad itself. But the complexity of the ad tech landscape and the way ads are bought, sold, and tracked also adds significantly to a campaign's carbon footprint.

There's no doubt programmatic media, specifically RTB, has revolutionized advertising. It's helped publishers monetize each and every view of a page and kept our internet free and diverse — all through the power of a simple auction. However, while an auction is the fairest way to transact media, it's also inherently inefficient.

On any given page load, a single view can result in far more than 100 calls to servers – managing everything from consent strings, data vendors, SSP calls, DSP calls, ad auction mechanics, and everything in-between.

We have found on average the various ad tech layers added to a campaign can add around 0.12 kilograms of carbon per thousand impressions, so slimming these down can have a significant impact on a campaign's carbon footprint.

As the industry moves increasingly towards programmatic guaranteed buying, and open exchange ad quality dwindles, we can expect some of this to happen naturally – but we can still take steps to move things along.

4. Focus your media sites on websites with high viewability/ attention rates.

It's been media buying 101 for a while now but spending money on sites with low viewability scores is inherently a waste of money. However, this also has a hidden carbon cost – in most cases, whether it's viewed or not, the cost of serving the ad is the same. That means that in standard CPM buying models, around 25 percent of your impressions are wasting energy – and creating carbon in the process.

By ensuring your Super Bowl campaigns only target websites with high viewability and attention rates, you reduce the risk of wasting your budget on ads that are never seen – and most likely, deliver a better ad campaign at the same time.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Ryan Cochrane is COO of Good-Loop.