The Super Bowl Ad Irrelevance Tax: Examining the Price Brands Pay for 364 Days of Not Mattering

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

Macbeth, act 5, scene 5, 19–28

The Super Bowl used to be the big time for brands with amazing stories to tell. It was the one place that brands could go to make an immediate impact on popular culture. Information and media was so scarce, and moved so slowly that these impacts were felt for a good amount of time.

Now it’s pretty depressing.

The advertising economy is built upon scarcity, and in this economy, nothing is as scarce as the coveted “Super Bowl ad.” But these days, it’s not ad inventory that’s scarce; synchronous reach and attention are. The Super Bowl ad is supposed to be a solution for both. Instead, it’s become the tax brands pay for not being relevant to people’s lives the rest of the year.

There are only a handful of reasons for brands to buy a national spot during the Super Bowl anymore. Here are a few, but numbers 3–6 are sad truths:

1. The brand has a major investment in becoming synonymous with the Super Bowl or the NFL.

2. The brand is doing something incredibly significant, and needs America to know.

3 The brand is a category leader, but with declining market share trying to recapture former glory.

4. The brand wants to be featured in news stories about Super Bowl commercials, and social media “buzz.”

5. The brand wants to be able to brag about how many online views its TV commercial got, or how often its hashtag was used.

6. The brand has not found any meaningful ways to connect with the customers it has, or the consumers it wants to reach.

The stories that most brands tell in their 30 to 90 seconds of expensive Super Bowl glory have had to become so ridiculous, so over-the-top, that they are most likely too far away from the products they are meant to advertise to provide any meaningful depth. They become sponsored carnival sideshows and stunts, signifying nothing of meaning, value or purpose to the people they are trying to appeal to.

For brands, being relevant to today’s consumer means a lot more than an insertion into a popular cultural moment. It means providing a user experience that goes beyond the experience of simply using the product. It means building a relatable personality. It means investing in customers as much as investing in reaching the ones the brand doesn’t have yet. It means being there on every screen, not just the big one. It means building a good reputation. It means persistence. It means boldly committing to a story, owning a point of view, and aligning with the values of its customers.

Many have said that the quality of a brand is the premium someone is willing to pay for a product. Unfortunately, the Super Bowl ad is too often the premium brands are willing to pay to make up for their irrelevance.

Don’t be jealous of the brands that can afford to run a Super Bowl TV spot. Instead, focus on ways to resonate with people the other 364 days of the year. You’ll save money, and build a better brand.

And probably get a promotion.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Ian Schafer, CEO and founder of Deep Focus (a part of Engine USA), is one of advertising’s most influential voices in interactive marketing and social media. An avid technologist, Ian blogs at and can be followed on Twitter @ischafer.

Image by The Autowitch

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