The 54th Super Bowl has come and gone, leaving us wondering, “What makes the Super Bowl the phenomenon it is?”

One short answer is the NFL itself. They have leaned into a growing TV audience, the intersection of celebrity and athlete, and the media buzz worthiness of controversy. This hasn’t happened by accident. Through some fortunate timing, a little luck and a lot of effort, they have captured what is arguably a unique space in our shared cultural experience.

Why Is It Unique?

One possible reason is resources. Brand budgets might only have room for one blow out every year: More than $400 million was spent buying 70 spots. Add in production, talent fees and all the other marketing elements and the price tag isn’t something companies can do too often. The UEFA Champions League final has superior viewing numbers and broader global appeal, but cannot compare when it comes to buzz outside of the football audience.
Maybe it’s a Highlander thing…

Part Of WinnING, Is Already Being The Winner

The NFL is pursuing their own marketing agenda during the game (Their NFL 100 spot is objectively great) and have partnered with ROC Nation to produce the non-sport entertainment, releasing it as stand alone content (“Visual Album” sounds like marketing speak for “music video”). The partnership has its own controversy (as does the halftime show), but it’s a clear signal the NFL is investing in its position as a bastion of pop culture.
They don’t need more football fans watching, they need more non-fans involved. 

What About Brands And Marketers?

An undeniable benefit is association with the what the Super Bowl symbolises. Having a spot on Show Time carries weight. You’re part of the conversation. Even if you’re the worst, you’re at least on the list (guess who Ad Meter voters chose).

It’s also the best chance a brand has at making a massive impact in one shot. Memes are created in seconds, and a huge swathe of the public has a common reference when discussing your brand. Heard anyone say Smaaaaht Paaaahk this week? Buy your slot and trust your creatives. Boom, instant zeitgeist. The audience is so involved, even the worst-performing ads probably move the needle.

Not to get all clichéd here, but Americans know (and appreciate) showmanship. They understand entertainment, and their grip on the reigns as global pioneers in that industry doesn’t appear to be loosening. If you want to be part of the biggest marketing platform of the year, where else are you going to go? Wimbledon? Miss Universe?

What’s The Answer?

It’s not the event that makes it unique. Football isn’t that exciting (sorry, it’s true). This is good news for anyone tempted to usurp the crown; if a boring sport generates this much excitement from non-fans, pretty much anything can.

It’s all about momentum; get enough people interested, and the zeitgeist builds inertia to the point where it becomes self-sustaining. The bad news is, they’ve got over 50 years of experience and momentum behind them. Good luck toppling that. Other events have potential; the FIFA World Cup Final regularly pulls in significantly more viewers (the 2018 final had over 500 million, with last weekend’s game netting around 100 million). The Grammys and Oscars have broader cultural appeal.

There are some basic conditions; it needs to be live. It needs to be real life (and uncertain) and it has to be worth talking about. Beyond that, it could be Steve Harvey calling out the wrong name at Miss Universe, Ricky Gervais mocking actors at the Golden Globes, or the finals of the Fortnite World Championships. It doesn’t matter.

For one day of the year, everyone watches the same thing, at the same time and talks about it. THAT creates gravity, which creates demand, which creates scarcity, which creates value. THAT’s what makes it special. It’s a self-sustaining culture engine with something completely meaningless at its core. Which means anything can be special; provided it’s the only thing.


  • The ads have been rated and analysed: The US public’s favourites have been ranked on USA Today’s Ad Meter, iSpot has ranked everything by media activity and Adage has critiqued and reviewed all of the work on a five point scale. 
    Spoiler Alert: Jeep pretty much comes out tops across the board.
  • America lost billions in productivity on Monday. Some people want to make it a National Holiday.
  • Jay-Z caught heat for sitting during the anthem. He says he was working, not protesting.
  • If you don’t have time to watch all of the ads that aired, Adweek made a 2 minute compilation
  • If you DO want to see all of them, Vulture has collected the full set.
  • Donald Trump congratulated the wrong state on winning. Why would you name a city after a State and then put it in a Different State? ‘Murica.