Super Bowl ads: Time and money


Approximately 44 minutes and 40 seconds of advertising aired during Super Bowl XLIV.

Given the Wall Street Journal’s recent revelation that there are only about 11 minutes of action in an NFL game, the ratio of time spent watching ads vs. watching the actual action is worth a mention. And if you were one of the people who tuned in throughout halftime and the commercial break that immediately followed the game, you watched 56 minutes and 5 seconds of commercials.
That means roughly five times more time was spent moving product than moving the football.
The New York Times recently did a breakdown of in-game advertising for the 1984-2009 Super Bowls. But how did 2010 stack up?
The following table shows the total number of advertisements during the game. The categories are self-explanatory, with a few exceptions. Promo means self-promotional ads run by CBS and the NFL, .com/tech are ads for any online or technology-based product/company, and car includes both car and tire ads.
Commercials during halftime and the final commercial break following the fourth quarter are included, but in-game promotions are not.

Category No. of ads Percent
Promo 43 34.13
.com/tech 24 19.05
Car 19 15.08
Beverage 12 9.52
Food 12 9.52
Movie 7 5.56
Apparel 3 2.38
Other 6 4.76

From these figures, it looks like CBS and the NFL spent the most time selling themselves, while technology and car products constituted large fractions of the overall commercial pool as well.
But not all ads are equal. A five-second blurb for CSI:Miami is very different from a 60-second Google marriage montage (by the way, am I the only one who thought that ad should have ended with the cursor clicking I'm feeling lucky?).
Additionally, the placement of the ads within the game can reveal the advertisers' thought process or intentions.
With that in mind, below is a layout of how many seconds of advertising occurred in each quarter of the game, according to category. Some commercial lengths are rounded; for example, 29- and 31-second ads are rounded to 30 seconds.
Category Qtr. 1 Qtr. 2 Half Qtr. 3 Qtr. 4 Post Overall Percent
Promo 95 70 220 135 145 5 670 19.9
.com/tech 150 180 70 210 135 60 805 23.9
Car 60 90 120 180 120 90 660 19.6
Beverage 150 135 0 105 90 0 480 14.3
Food 120 0 0 30 135 30 315 9.4
Movie 45 60 60 30 0 0 195 5.8
Apparel 15 30 0 0 15 0 60 1.8
Other 30 75 30 45 0 0 180 5.3
Total 665 640 500 735 640 185 3365 100

When you look at the overall time spent by category, CBS doesn’t look like it hogged the spotlight quite as much. This is because many of their ads were short -- 5-to-10 second promotions, rather than the long, blockbuster Clydesdale advertisements for a company like Anheuser-Busch (the leading sponsor). That being said, car and .com/tech spots were still dominant with almost 25 minutes of tube-time between them.
Some interesting trends:
1. CBS stepped up its promotions after the first half, with only 2:45 of self-promo in the first two quarters compared to 4:40 in the last two quarters.
2. Car ads were much more concentrated towards the end, while beverage ads decreased consistently as the game progressed. This could be based on the notion that people are most thirsty when they are eating, which typically happens right before or during the early parts of the game. Perhaps car companies want to target consumers towards the end of games once their minds are off of beer (which made up 75 percent of the beverage ads)?
3. Food ads showed an interesting approach, with over two minutes of ads in each of the first and fourth quarters, but only half a minute in between. Perhaps they were playing to the idea that people get up to eat before and after the game? Or maybe they were just adhering to the psychological phenomenon where the most memorable parts of an event are the beginning and end?
Regardless of what you make of all these trends and figures, the one undeniable truth in advertising is that time is money. If MSNBC’s reported estimated cost of $2.6M for a 30-second ad is right, then over $233 million dollars was spent on those 56 minutes of intermission.
And you thought the players were expensive.

Ben Singer is a graduate of Brown University and an intern at Sports. You can read his take on the "Contract year phenomenon" on