30 Second Super Bowl Commercial Costs $3.8 Million

At nearly $4 million for a 30 second spot, advertising on the Super Bowl is a bargain.

Want to run an ad during tomorrow’s Super Bowl? Well, you probably should have asked earlier but, in any case, it’s going to cost you:

Last year Gildan Activewear Inc.,  a Montreal-based T-shirt manufacturer, spent about $1 million on advertising in the U.S. On Sunday, it will spend nearly four times that amount for just one spot on television’s biggest event—the Super Bowl.

Gildan is one of a handful of lesser-known marketers that every year roll the dice with huge bets on the big game in hopes that exposure to the huge audience—a record 111 million people last year—will raise their public profiles.

A spot on the broadcast isn’t cheap. This year, 30 seconds of ad time during the game, which is being broadcast by CBS Corp.’s CBS network, is selling for about $3.8 million, up from the $3.5 million the same time fetched last year, according to media buyers.

Considering that the ads get almost as much attention as the game the day after, that’s not a bad investment.

UPDATE (James Joyner): Atlantic business editor Derek Thompson argues that the price should be higher.

The quantitative argument for Super Bowl ads being reasonably priced would proceed with some simple math. More than 100 million people watch the Super Bowl. Compare that to 20 million people, on average, watching Sunday Night Football in 2012; or 12 million watching The X-Factor; or 4 million watching 30 Rock. On a per-person, per-30-second basis, those numbers suggest that a Super Bowl viewer is worth twice as much as somebody watching The X-Factor or 30 Rock (which can be DVR’d, so the ads can be skipped) — or 33 percent more valuable than somebody watching a Sunday Night Football game.

But the quantitative approach isn’t sufficient to reveal the true value of Super Bowl advertising, because Super Bowl ads are qualitatively different from practically every other advertising event on your computer screen or television screen. To understand why, go back to the first sentence of this article: “The typical conversation about Super Bowl ads…” Stop right there. Appreciate how amazing it is that you didn’t flinch when you read that phrase.

Despite marketers’ best intentions, the fundamental relationship between consumers and ads is the act of ignoring. But people actually talk about Super Bowl ads, on purpose. They discuss them, analyze them, rank them. The New York TimesThe Daily BeastEntertainment WeeklyThe Huffington Post … sites that hardly mention Madison Avenue 364 days of the year suddenly transform, for one morning, into Ad Week and give drooling close-up coverage to Super Bowl ads.

When else do advertisements get their own advertisements?

Aside from the fact that Super Bowl ads have become an event in and of themselves, there’s another difference: most of us are recording our television these days and fast-forwarding through our commercials. There’s not a single scripted program that I watch “live.” Sports, though—and especially major events like playoff games—must be seen in real time to get the full effect. That means people are seeing the ads whether they want to or not.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Considering that the ads get almost as much attention as the game the day after, that’s not a bad investment.

    In today’s age, not a bad investment at all. I’ve already seen some of the ads that will be broadcast, not just in the context of advertising, but also in reporting on the advertising.

    That $3.8 mill buys a whole lot more than just 30 seconds of ad time in today’s time-shifted, buzzy media environment.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb): There was a piece of analysis that pointed out what you really wanted to do is release the ad beforehand on your own website so you could get a buzz started, then show it at the Superbowl. Was much more effective than if you showed it at the Superbowl and made it available for viewing afterwards. Which makes sense–everyone likes to feel that they’re holding some secret knowledge. After the Superbowl, the ad quickly turns into “olds”.