Is the Super Bowl Still the Tentpole Moment for Advertisers?

By Greg Garunov

While the Super Bowl is wildly popular, it's far from the only game in town. Last year's Super Bowl garnered over 99 million viewers in the U.S. and a little over 200 million globally, but the most recent World Cup garnered a record five billion global viewers.

Similarly, the Olympics typically sees an impressive two billion international viewers, yet, the Super Bowl remains a top priority for brand marketers. In some instances, entire annual advertising budgets are put toward a Super Bowl activation. With growing fragmentation and shifting viewer habits across the industry, it may be time for advertisers to consider different types of ad exposures and opportunities outside of the Super Bowl price tag.

The Super Bowl does not hold the same weight it did 20 years ago. The level of accessibility that the average person must not only consume but actively contribute to the media makes it possible for nearly anything and everything to become the next big moment. The viral nature of social media lends itself to a whole myriad of content that will get viewed by millions of people every day.

With the boom of on-demand content consumption, traditional events that once stood as giants in the media, like the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards, sustained a decrease in viewership and lost their in-the-moment relevance. With subscription-based streaming platforms added to the mix, live viewership is waning and, with it, eyes on live ads. These factors have an indirect impact on big tentpole events, particularly those constrained by time. This directly impacts their value for advertisers.

So, here's the question all marketers must ask — is it worth the investment?

Advertising investment decisions have gotten much more complex, due in significant part to the evolving media landscape. Looking at it strategically, reach and frequency are still the most critical metrics for marketing efforts for many advertisers, which is why the Super Bowl was such an integral part of advertising strategy in the first place. It was all about matching the big names when it comes to measuring marketing impact.

But after the campaign is done, the comparison is not that important. What matters is the efficiency of the campaign's reach, frequency, and cost, all of which serve as a basis for the next campaign.

It's time for marketers to ditch the traditional tentpole and opt for an advertising strategy that doesn't blow the whole budget on one predefined moment. Instead of dropping $7 million on a 30-second spot, marketers should lean into their audience's fragmented viewing habits. More content fragmentation over the past 40 years has created a market that should encourage advertisers to look beyond the traditional standards that they've relied on in the past.

For example, investments can be allocated to digital and interactive channels. The available content and reach seen in avenues like TikTok, YouTube, podcasts, and CTV continue to outpace advertiser spending, making the supply greater than the demand and cutting down advertising competition. By looking at a wider set of opportunities instead of just one ad slot, marketers could take that $7 million Super Bowl spot and reach a whole lot more consumers at a greater frequency while maintaining control over campaign length and goals. Even if Super Bowl association is still the campaign goal, but the budget is out of reach. By finding the connected surrounding ad slots and opportunities, you could match the reach of the game in the moment and still have budget left over.

Another way marketers can achieve a higher ROI is by reevaluating their priorities in ad campaign planning. Deciding the last touch point — where the ad is consumed, at the Super Bowl, for example — is not the most critical factor. The essential decisions come much earlier in the media and marketing strategy, such as identifying brand values, communications platforms, ad creative, budgeting, and core marketing pillars. The best way to go about making these decisions is to be deliberate, clear, and consistent with your overall brand messaging and goals.

Once these factors are decided, a whole world of opportunities becomes available. If the focus is solely on tentpole moments, you miss out on one of the most significant aspects of the media and marketing landscape as we know it: viral moments. Viral moments are the tentpoles of today. These types of events, trends, and stories are those that crop up suddenly and effectively seize media attention, potentially garnering millions of views and impressions a day. They're not predictable and you can't circle their dates on a calendar, but you can and should plan for them.

Even though it's no longer what it once was, the Super Bowl still rakes in millions of viewers every year, so it's not hard to see why it takes up so much advertising stock. But brands that don't branch out, attack new strategies, and explore different avenues are missing out on lucrative possibilities that now exist outside of the big game.

As audience fragmentation widens and viewership trends shift, advertisers must be ready to pivot their strategies accordingly and invest in new opportunities that truly hold the most weight in today's fast-moving media landscape. The Super Bowl may not be going anywhere anytime soon, but it's certainly no longer the end-all-be-all for advertisers.

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.

Greg Garunov is EVP of strategic development at Sightly.