Ads are longer, stakes higher, for Super Bowl commercials

Screen Grab
A Volkswagen ad for the Super Bowl called ‘‘The Dog Strikes Back’’ features Star Wars-like characters.

If there’s ever a time people want to linger over TV commercials, it’s during the Super Bowl - and this year, advertisers will oblige, running longer spots that do more storytelling.

“It’s the one place all year you will find viewers who want to watch commercials,’’ said Geoff Klapisch, an advertising professor at Boston University.

The Super Bowl, set for Feb. 5 on NBC, with the New England Patriots playing the New York Giants, is the premier annual showcase for creative television advertising. What viewers are likely to notice is that companies are creating fewer 30-second ads, and more 60-second-and-longer spots meant to engage viewers in a story, as well as the commercial message.


There’s a “proliferation of long-form creative content’’ during commercial breaks at this year’s Super Bowl, noted Seth Winter, senior vice president of sales and marketing at NBC Sports Group, in an e-mail.

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Though Winter wouldn’t specify how many longer commercials would air during this year’s game, there were 10 long-form network commercials during last year’s Super Bowl. Two that were considered to be breakout successes were the 60-second Volkswagen Passat ad that featured a boy in a Darth Vader costume trying to wield the Force, and Chrysler LLC’s two-minute ode to Detroit with rapper Eminem.

Audi of America Inc. plans to return to the game with a 60-second ad in the first quarter - a premium spot, since the ads get cheaper as the game goes on - promoting the new LED headlights on the 2013 Audi S7 sedan. Inspired by the “Twilight’’ movie series, the ad features a throng of young vampires bantering at a campfire. Another guest pulls up in his Audi sedan and beams his headlights on the festivities. Let’s just say the party quickly dies out.

Audi chief marketing officer Scott Keogh said the company needed a full minute to tell that story. “The extra time not only gives consumers room for discussion and helps spark conversation, but it also allows us to deliver the message,’’ he wrote in a e-mail.

Commercials in general have been getting shorter since the 1950s and 1960s, when 60 seconds was the norm. A 2009 Super Bowl ad for Miller Beer pushed the short form to its limit, running for only a single second. Television ads today tend to run for 30 seconds each. Lengthier ads serve the Internet age, analysts said, because it’s possible to draw viewers to the Web for a deeper pitch. “Advertisers have more time to . . . direct people online to tell the story,’’ said Andrew Graff, president of The Ad Club of Boston.


There are still plenty of advertisers choosing to run 30-second spots, including the real estate firm Century 21. The game takes place at just the right time of year, according to Bev Thorne, Century 21’s chief marketing officer.

“It’s a perfect springboard into the spring selling season,’’ she said. “What better venue than to be in front of over 100 million viewers in the US market?’’

There were more than 46 minutes of network commercials during last year’s Super Bowl, which aired on Fox. That number climbed steadily from 2002, when there 36 minutes of network ads during the Super Bowl, according to Kantar Media, a firm that tracks advertising. Advertisers spent a total of $228 million on the game last year; in 2002, the total was $134 million.

In terms of viewers, the game always scores. The Super Bowl captured 2.5 million viewers in Boston last year - up from 2010’s 2.4 million - and it broke TV ratings records nationally, drawing 111 million total viewers, up from 106 million the year before.

NBC sold out this year’s Super Bowl’s commercial airtime shortly after Thanksgiving, charging an average of $3.5 million to $4 million for a 30-second spot, the network said. That’s up from an average of $3 million last year, according to Kantar. Local advertisers also flock to the Super Bowl, airing this year on Boston NBC affiliate WHDH-TV (Channel 7). Station officials declined to reveal the cost of getting into the game, but with the Patriots in play, local Super Bowl spots could start as high as $200,000, according to advertising executives. Generally, network affiliates get about a dozen local spots to run before, during, and after the Super Bowl.


One local ad will come from JetBlue Airways, which will premiere a new, 60-second commercial as part of its “Ground Rules” campaign during Channel 7’s Super Bowl broadcast. The campaign, created by Boston ad agency Mullen, has shown passengers being mistreated in taxis and elevators, making the point that we’re willing to be more inconvenienced during a flight than on the ground.

Johnny Diaz can be reached at