In America, it’s treated as a de facto national holiday.

The annual climax of the National Football League season has become a whole weekend of tail-gating and coach-potato convalescing.

But the Superbowl has also become an annual festival of advertising – the most lucrative TV event for the networks, ad agencies and the NFL in the US.

Brands will spend a stupendous $1m (622,000) for each ten seconds of airtime to reach the 100 million-plus audience when the Green Bay Packers meet the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

As Tim Ellis, VP of marketing for Volkswagen of America put it to the FT: “If you want to be part of the national dialogue in this country, you have to be on the Super Bowl.”

It’s not just car makers that are getting on the act, but the most digital of companies. Discount voucher start-up Groupon has paid for an ad – made by MDC Partners, which has also worked on campaigns for Burger King and Domino’s.

WPP’s Kantar Media predicts that the Fox TV network will make more than $200 million in ad revenue during the night (via the New York Times.

Similar to the X Factor in the UK, nothing digital or otherwise can replicate the shared entertainment on such a mass scale as the superbowl and it’s that which advertisers want to be a part of.

Ads as entertainment

This goes beyond just selling to consumers: while most ads are focus-grouped, demographically-profiled and targeted towards consumer groups, these ads are specifically tailored to a national audience. They are exclusive to that night’s TV and designed to be part of the fun.

As Shane Richmond, head of the technology desk at and known NFL fan, rightly put it earlier on Twitter: The ads have a much broader appeal than the sport… Kudos to the NFL for finding a way to get non-fans watching.”

The ad industry certainly hopes he’s right. Marc Landsberg, CEO of digital agency MRM Worldwide, says (also via “On social media I think there is going to be a lot more talk about the ads than the game itself.”

And in an age where some of us watch TV with a laptop in front of us and dissect our lives on Facebook daily, the shelf life of these ads and their parent campaigns lives on. You will struggle to watch a Superbowl ad that doesn’t reference an online, interactive component, such as a minisite or Facebook page. The video traffic of people around the world watching the ads again – some of whom will have no knowledge or interest in American football – will be huge. One Volkswagen advert aired during last year’s event was viewed more than a million times online.

So the ads have become part of the experience, part of the enjoyment of a shared, global occasion. It’s a festival of sport and American pride but also an affirmation that brands are king.

Don’t believe all the hype though. As Steve Busfield, The Guardian’s sports blogs editor, says (also via Twitter): “That’s what the marketers want you to think. The game is big & I bet there is more *buzz* around the half time show than the ads.”

But, undeterred and with no hint of irony, Pio Schunker, “senior vice-president for creative excellence” at Coca-Cola North America tells the New York Times: “We view this as our own personal State of the Union.”