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Do Super Bowl Commercials Matter Anymore for Movies?

Summary

  • Super Bowl movie ads come with a hefty price tag of $7 million for a 30-second spot, but their effectiveness in driving box office success is questionable.
  • Last year’s Super Bowl movie ads, such as
    The Flash
    and
    Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
    , had high trailer views but didn’t translate into significant box office results.
  • The element of surprise in Super Bowl ads has dwindled as many trailers are now released online before the game, diminishing the excitement of seeing them for the first time during the event.



Just about everyone will be glued to their TVs this Sunday to watch the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs go head-to-head during Super Bowl LVIII. The highlight for most will be the big game, but the Super Bowl commercials have long taken on a life of their own as well. With more than 100 million viewers likely tuning in, advertisers look at this as an event to sell their best products, and that same thing goes to movie studios.


Super Bowl movie trailers have also been a staple, but with ballooning budgets and ever-changing viewing interests, the cost of securing a spot during the most-watched event of the year may not be worth a potential box office misfire. This begs the question: Do viewers still care about movie ads during the Super Bowl?


Super Bowl Ads Carry a Hefty Price Tag


The price tag for snagging a Super Bowl spot doesn’t come cheap. For the second year in a row, the average cost of a 30-second ad during the game is a staggering $7 million. Coming out of the pandemic in particular, businesses have begun to become more disciplined regarding their marketing spend, but the Super Bowl is still the holy grail for most advertisers.


Football is America’s game, and most viewers will be fixated on every moment, including commercials. On paper, it makes sense that studios would also want to take advantage of this event to promote their biggest upcoming tentpoles, and this year is no exception. It’s possible that Deadpool 3, Twisters, A Quiet Place: Day One, Inside Out 2, and more will have a spot right before, during, or immediately after the game.


There is no doubt that these spots will get millions upon millions of views on television and then across YouTube and other social platforms once they’re available after they air, but at the moment, curiosity doesn’t always turn into future box office gold. By the time one of these big films opens during the summer, it’s possible that the casual moviegoer won’t remember the 30-second spot they saw during the Super Bowl.


Check out the Super Bowl ad for Deadpool 3:


A Super Bowl Ad Doesn’t Guarantee Box Office Success

The Flash

The Flash

Release Date
June 16, 2023

Studio
DC Comics, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros.

Franchise
DC


Looking directly at some of last year’s big movie ads during the game, a staggering amount of views of their trailers didn’t translate to significant box office results. The Flash, arguably built up as one of the biggest films of 2023, was the second-most viewed Super Bowl trailer during the 24 hours after the game, with a total of 97.4 million views. When the film finally hit theaters in June, it managed to only open to $55 million on its way to a dismal domestic total of $108.1 million.


Granted, The Flash had other internal issues to deal with that affected its box office potential, but an argument could be made that the $7 million spent on putting eyes on it during the Super Bowl ended up being a waste of money for Warner Bros. This becomes even more pricey when this is only a part of the film’s marketing costs, in addition to a reported budget that was estimated to be as high as $220 million.


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Another big film with an action-packed Super Bowl spot during the 2023 game was Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The movie marked Harrison Ford’s return as the titular character alongside a respected director (James Mangold), with Steven Spielberg on board as a producer. This was viewers’ second look at the latest installment, following a teaser trailer that had dropped the previous year.


For this spot, Disney was getting in front of the 115.1 million viewers who watched the Kansas City Chiefs come back in a big way to beat the Philadelphia Eagles. There was a lot of potential for the spot, but this turned out to be another case of a $7 million spot not moving the domestic box office in a meaningful way, as The Dial of Destiny was a box office failure. Despite 34.2 million views of the spot, when the $384 million film opened at the end of June, it only managed a $60.4 million debut before ending its run with just $174.5 million at the domestic box office.


Check out the Super Bowl ad for Twisters:



Another 2023 film that broke through with significant movie trailer views due to exposure during the Super Bowl was Fast X. After the F9 trailer clocked in at 110.9 million views during the 2020 Super Bowl (before the pandemic changed the world as we knew it) and 44.5 million views in 2021 due to the film being delayed because of COVID, Universal Pictures tried their hand at an ad spot again to promote the tenth installment of the franchise.


The 30-second spot for Fast X was the third-most viewed 24 hours after the game, pulling in 94.1 million views, but the film ended up being another example of diminishing returns. COVID and franchise ego increased the budget of Fast X to $340 million (not including marketing spend), which made its $67 million opening that May more on the lackluster side. By the end of its domestic box office run, the film only mustered up $146.1 million.



In years past, you can also find examples of Big Game spots not pulling their weight when a film finally opens to the masses. In 2017, the average cost for a 30-second spot was lower at $5 million, but it was still a pricey endeavor. Films that had spots during the 2017 game that failed to ignite the box office included A Cure for Wellness ($40 million budget, $8.1 million domestic total), Ghost in the Shell ($110 million budget, $40.5 million domestic total), Transformers: The Last Knight ($260 million budget, $130.1 million domestic total) and Life ($58 million budget, $30.2 million domestic total).


If anything, a year like 2017 should’ve taught studios to be more picky about forking money over for Super Bowl ad space, but some films had spots during that game that ended up doing well down the road. Logan ($97 million budget, $226.2 million domestic total), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ($200 million budget, $389.8 million domestic total), and John Wick: Chapter 2 ($40 million budget, $92 million domestic total), all were showcased during the 2017 game, but a significant argument can be made that they were more than their Super Bowl spots. Their 30-second previews gave audiences something they were already hungry for, while films like A Cure for Wellness, Ghost in the Shell, and Life were hoping for the best by just showing up.


Check out the Super Bowl ad for Wicked:


The Element of Surprise Has Dwindled


It also doesn’t help that the surprise of Super Bowl ads has dwindled in recent years because many of them are released ahead of the game. While The Flash and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 dropped their previews cold during the game, the Fast X Big Game spot was released the Friday ahead of the Super Bowl.


Other films that did this last year with their 30-second spots were Air and Scream VI, and while these two films proved to be successful at the box office, it was a growing example that the element of surprise regarding these TV spots is a thing of the past. Why spend $7 million to secure a place during the game only to have the trailer released online days in advance? Excuses have been given that some studios don’t know if the game will be a blowout, so they release the spots before the game to build anticipation while also garnering potential views during the event. Still, the excitement of seeing that spot for the first time on a TV screen is lost due to the changing habits of viewers and the antsy behavior of the studios releasing the films.


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There have been success stories, but whether they equate to the movie spot being released during the Super Bowl is still debatable. The most watched 30-second movie spot with 134.1 million views in the first 24 hours after the game belonged to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3. That film proved very successful later in the year, grossing $358.9 million domestically on a $250 million budget. Did the 30-second ad do much? GOTG Vol.3 was bound to be a success no matter what, given that it was marketed as James Gunn’s MCU swan song and the last hurrah with that particular band of misfit heroes. The uninitiated were likely not moved enough to want to see the film because they saw a spot for it during the Super Bowl.


Needless to say, of the 13 films that dropped TV spots during the big game in 2023, only four proved to be significant domestic box office hits. The aforementioned GOTG Vol.3, Scream VI, Cocaine Bear, and Creed III can claim some supremacy at the domestic box office, while the others already mentioned, in addition to 65, Strays, and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, to name a few, didn’t exactly move the needle.


While the Super Bowl might ignite some interest in viewing these trailers at the moment, their overall impact seems to be lost on casual moviegoers once the game is over, their favorite team has won, and the hangover effects of beer and hot wings have finally set in. Super Bowl LVIII will be played on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024, at 3:30 PM PDT/6:30 PM EDT.

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