In a rapidly changing advertising landscape, do Super Bowl ads still reign supreme?

Conventional ad wisdom would tell you that the era of big budget television commercials is over, killed off by the rise of streaming services.

So why do advertisers still spend millions of dollars on a few seconds of air time during the Super Bowl?

Advertising and media trends have actually made the Super Bowl the one exception to nearly every contemporary ad rule: Super Bowl ads are more relevant than ever.

The Super Bowl is possibly one of only true live television events – the last bastion of the traditional TV ad model: nearly 112 million people watched last year’s game in the US alone, an unmatchable slice of viewership. And unlike other popular media, the Super Bowl is predominantly a social experience that almost every viewer will watch on live TV. Which means no skipping out on commercials.

Aside from live viewership, the Super Bowl ad market has become more of a weeks long event than a single experience. Teasers or full ads are now released well ahead of the game itself to build hype. In offices and group chats across the world, “have you seen this one yet?” is a remarkable source of word-of-mouth hype leading up to Super Bowl Sunday.

There’s also the symbolic benefit of Super Bowl advertising: being part of the exclusive world-class club of brands that can afford to make a splash comes with an immeasurable amount of industry clout. Who wouldn’t want to pop up on listicles of top ads along side other heavy hitters?

In the era of second-screen engagement, Super Bowl ads have emerged as a major driver of social buzz. Viewers live-Tweeting the game and the commercials, as well as brands hopping on in-the-moment experiences, are potentially more valuable than the televised spots themselves.

Which brings us to the future of Super Bowl advertising: do brands need to air a TV spot at all to be a part of the Super Bowl ad game?

While live viewership of commercials still holds undeniable benefits, social sharing isn’t far behind. Top brands have recently built Super Bowl ad campaigns that exist entirely on social platforms, or not at all, targeting people who will be following along during the game. Increasingly, brands that can’t afford to televise commercials, or simply don’t want to, can be a part of the experience.

Whether televised or social only, it’s fair to say that “the Super Bowl of advertising” is still the Super Bowl.