Stuart Forster looks at the significance of Super Bowl Sunday in the USA.
Super Bowl Sunday is America’s big day in. The winners of the American Football Conference and National Football Conference take to the field to compete for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The winners are named American football’s world champions. To people outside of the United States of America that may seem a bold claim.
Yet when the first Super Bowl was held, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1967, the game was a contest between the champions of the American and National Football Leagues – the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers. The Packers won 35 – 10, thus earning the right to call themselves professional football’s champions of the world.
They retained the sport’s crown a year later, helping the team’s head coach, Vince Lombardi, attain legendary status. Lombardi died in 1970, the same year the two leagues merged, and the trophy was named in his honour.
Super Bowl Sunday
The Super Bowl is an event that brings people together throughout the USA. The day is widely known as Super Bowl Sunday and sees barbecues and parties held across the nation. It’s said that only on Thanksgiving, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, is more food consumed than the day of the Super Bowl.
According to Nielsen, the company which analyses consumer data and provides statistics relating to television viewing figures, Super Bowl XLIX was the most watched American television programme of 2015.
In fact, thanks to an average of 114.4 million viewers staying tuned, the game between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks was quickly declared the most watched broadcast in the history of American television. During the closely contested second-half, the viewing figures spiked at 168 million people – more than half the country’s population.
The Super Bowl’s halftime show
The halftime break during the Super Bowl lasts for 30 minutes. It is arguably American television’s most anticipated half-hour of the year.
Thirty second advertising slots on the national network sold for $4.5 million during the 2015 Super Bowl. During the 2021 Super Bowl, slots will cost advertisers $5.5 million.
Some advertisers suggest the astronomical costs cannot be recouped. Yet a number of companies continue to make Super Bowl advertising the focal point of annual marketing campaigns.
Viewer responses to adverts aired during the Super Bowl are keenly monitored and analysed. The ads are much anticipated and some viewers tune in specifically to see them.
Online previews on portals such as YouTube also help generate a social media buzz around the adverts. During 2011 The Force, an advert for the Volkswagen Passat car, went viral, acquiring almost 17 million views ahead of the game. Featuring a boy dressed as Darth Vader, from the film Star Wars, it is accompanied by the pounding tune of The Imperial March. Thanks to its use of visual humour the ad was widely acclaimed a success.
Super Bowl advertising
Between 2006 and 2016 Frito-Lay, the makers of Doritos tortilla chips, engaged people via their Crash the Super Bowl competition. It featured adverts scripted by members of the public. Online voting helped select the advert aired during the game. The Doritos advert of 2009 – written by the brothers Dave and Joe Herbert from Batesville, Indiana – was deemed the best shown during the Super Bowl in USA Today’s Ad Meter poll. That resulted in the Herberts bagging a $1 million bonus from Frito-Lay.
Malcolm Butler’s interception was, from a marketing executive’s perspective, not the biggest of Super Bowl XLIX. Volvo, the Swedish automotive manufacturer, ran a much discussed media campaign eliciting more than 49,000 tweets during the four hours of the game. Each time an advert for another manufacturer’s vehicle was aired Volvo encouraged viewers to take to Twitter and use the hashtags #VolvoContest and #VolvoInterception to nominate the worthy winner of a Volvo car. With a limited spend, the campaign increased brand awareness by generating publicity on talk and news shows, plus coverage in print and online media.
Advertising spots dovetailed around the Super Bowl’s halftime show are popular. Some of the biggest names in music have performed in the halftime show. Michael Jackson (1993), U2 (2002) and the Rolling Stones (2006) are among the acts that have wowed viewers during the big game.
That famous wardrobe malfunction
The 2004 show, featuring Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, is also memorable. Many people recall it for the furore surrounding the ‘wardrobe malfunction’ that resulted in Jackson’s breast being seen in living rooms across the USA. The incident sparked a debate on decency and overshadowed the game. The Federal Communications Commission slapped CBS, the broadcaster, with a fine of $550,000, which was subsequently overturned.
Normally the Super Bowl is is promoted with Roman numerals yet Super Bowl 50 followed Super Bowl XLIX. The Pittsburg Steelers and New England Patriots have both won six Super Bowls, making them the most successful team in the sport’s history. The Buffalo Bills achieved the feat of reaching four consecutive Super Bowls between 1991 and 1994, winning none.
Without a doubt, there’s a lot of buzz about advertising and the Super Bowl halftime show. But, come the much-anticipated kick-off, for true football fans it’s all about what happens on the field of play.
See the Visit the USA to plan a trip stateside.
Stuart Forster is an award-winning travel journalist based in North East England.
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A version of this post was originally published on 1 February 2016.