A Super Bowl ad costs $4 million. So? Big advertisers make that much in the time you’ll spend watching the game

Buying the spot for this Doritos ad takes only five hours worth of Pepsi profit.
Buying the spot for this Doritos ad takes only five hours worth of Pepsi profit.
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It happens pretty much every year: The price of a 30-second commercial spot during the Super Bowl, the pinnacle of the professional American football season, climbs to a new record high. For this year’s game, to be broadcast on Feb. 3, the spots have reportedly been sold for $3.7-$3.8 million. Even if you adjust for inflation, a Super Bowl ad costs 10 times more today than it did during the first championship game in 1967.

Last year, Matt Yglesias argued that NBC can charge more and more because the Super Bowl has become a television event in a class all its own. As cable TV and the internet have fragmented audiences, fewer and fewer programs can attract anything close to the viewership of a live sporting event. (In the past, the finales of popular network television shows like M*A*S*H and the miniseries Roots could more than keep up).

So, is it worth shelling out so much coin for a mere 30 seconds of airtime?

It’s impossible to say exactly how much a successful Super Bowl ad ultimately earns a company. Surely the Wassup commercials were a huge boon for the Budweiser brand—but how huge?

One thing is clear though: for the biggest advertisers, that $3.75 million is truly a pittance. In fact, some of them make almost as much in profits in an average 3.5 hours—roughly the time it takes to air the Super Bowl itself.

Super Bowl Ad spending and profits