More Super Bowl airtime than ever is devoted to ads

If it feels like you’re watching more commercials during this Sunday's Super Bowl than ever before, your hunch is right. 

The most valuable advertising time on television has surged almost 20 percent, to about 50 minutes of ad time last year, up from fewer than 42 minutes per Super Bowl a decade ago, according to Kantar Media. 

It’s not only beautifully crafted ads from top marketers such as Anheuser-Busch that are taking up more ad time. The NFL and the network airing the Super Bowl have also given more time to their in-house ads, Kantar found. Driving the longer ad time is demand from advertisers — each shelling out a record $4 million for a 30-second spot — as well as a desire from the NFL and TV networks to strut their in-house promotions, given the game reliably draws more than 100 million viewers.

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 Events like the Super Bowl are "increasingly pulling ahead of other TV programming,” said Carl Marci, chief scientist at consumer research company Innerscope. “Everything is moving toward events that are the one place advertisers are willing to spend more, whether it’s the Grammys, the Oscars, the Super Bowl or the Olympics.”

For marketers, the Super Bowl can be a make or break event. Apple (AAPL) captured the imagination of a generation with its lauded “1984” ad, which ran the same year and introduced the Macintosh computer.  But others weren’t so successful, such as athletic shoe company Just for Feet, which ran a reviled ad in the 1999 Super Bowl. It later went out of business. 

Part of the time bloat is due to advertisers opting for longer commercials. 

Take Chrysler. In each of the last two Super Bowls, the automaker has opted to air two-minute ads, a length that’s rarely seen on television. Last year, the automaker won kudos for its moving spot featuring a voice-over from the late radio legend Paul Harvey. 

Chrysler wasn’t alone in going long -- it was one of 15 advertisers last year airing spots that ran for 60 seconds or longer. By comparison, only 10 commercials were longer than one minute in 2010, Kantar found. 

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 This year, Fox will air between 30 to 35 minutes of scheduled advertising, although that doesn’t include half-time and commercials that run during injuries and play reviews. Last year’s game, which aired on CBS (the parent company of CBS News), included about 38 minutes of paid advertising, although that also includes one advertising break that was re-aired because of the stadium blackout. Fox sold out of inventory in early December, a spokesman said.

Network promotions are also getting longer. In 2004, about eight minutes were devoted to promoting the network hosting the big game, which was CBS. In 2013, that had jumped to more than 10 minutes. The NFL, meanwhile, aired three minutes of promotions last year, about a minute longer than a decade ago.

But more commercial time, while lucrative, can have a downside. Viewers can lose interest in the middle of a longer ad, Innerscope's Marci notes. That slow moment might turn into a bathroom break or a kitchen raid.

“It’s like a roller-coaster, where you’re not always screaming down to the bottom of the ride,” Marci noted. “There’s always a risk, which is why you don’t see a lot of the longer ads outside of the Super Bowl.”

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 Advertisers also face a risk of clutter, or when a show is so stuffed with commercials that viewers zone out. Last year “was the most cluttered Super Bowl of all time,” Kantar Media chief research officer Jon Swallen said.

So far, the increased advertising time isn’t turning off viewers, but every audience has a breaking point, he added. 

“Often you don’t know where that breaking point is until you’ve surpassed it,” he said. 

As for marketers themselves, they say they’re not concerned about ad clutter amid the growing commercial time in the game. 

Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for General Mills’ Cheerios cereal, said clutter wasn’t an issue when deciding to buy its first-ever Super Bowl spot. “We looked at it as an opportunity to reach a lot of families on one night,” she said of the brand’s 30-second ad

Anheuser-Busch will be one of the biggest advertisers in the game, with plans to air three ads for Bud Light and two for Budweiser, according to Advertising Age. Building on its popular “Brotherhood” spot last year — about the bond between a horse trainer and a Clydesdale — one of the Budweiser spots will feature the same trainer. 

“We focus on balancing entertainment and storytelling with compelling brand content that breaks through the clutter,” Brian Perkins, vice president at Budweiser, said by email. 

Given that viewers look forward to watching Super Bowl ads, it’s possible the game could add even more commercial time, notes Innerscope’s Marci. 

As Swallen noted, "One of the reasons the Super Bowl can sustain such a heavy ad load is the fact that the quality of commercials is better, and the fact that audiences are tuning in with interest in the advertising.”

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