The Super Bowl is a massive event followed by millions around the globe. For advertisers, however, it is by no means the only game in town.

The Super Bowl is the largest single sporting event in the world—but these alternatives also guarantee maximum attention.

Das chinesische Neujahrsfest, Super Bowl oder Karneval in Rio sind Hochphasen für die Werbeindustrie.
Das chinesische Neujahrsfest, Super Bowl oder Karneval in Rio sind Hochphasen für die Werbeindustrie. Fotos: Wikimedia

At this year’s Super Bowl, a 30-second spot will set you back a cool USD 7m. No matter, mind you. There is no shortage of brands willing to fork it over. The football game is a massive event that guarantees global visibility. For advertisers however, it is by no means the only major event guaranteeing millions in attention, as a look at comparable events held in other countries show.

This year’s halftime performer, Usher, won’t be getting paid for his 15 minutes on the world’s biggest stage. Neither did Beyoncé, Rihanna, The Weeknd or Dr. Dre before him. With around 100 million tuning in live worldwide and the ensuing views on YouTube et. al. reaching hundreds of millions more, there are financial payoffs in spades. It’s a numbers game and Usher’s move is a calculated one—his new album dropped the Thursday before the Super Bowl (which at the time of publication was yesterday).

Usher is getting off easy. For everyone else, getting a slice of the attention pie at Super Bowl LVIII, which, oh, by the way, will be played on Sunday between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers in Las Vegas, runs USD 7m for 30 seconds. That's almost three times the cost for the same spot in 2004. But brands like Oreo, Budweiser, Doordash, etc., keep lining and paying up.

While the Super Bowl is a massive global event that guarantees international attention, it’s not the only game in town. Just, perhaps, in the States. When advertisers look beyond US borders there are attention opportunities around. Let’s take a trip…

Melbourne Cup and AFL Grand Final (Australia)

"The race that stops the nation" is the name given to the spectacle in Australia that has thrilled the nation for more than 150 years. The Melbourne Cup is perhaps the most famous horse race in the world next to the Kentucky Derby in the USA. More than 100,000 fans watch the horses navigate the 3.2-kilometer racetrack.

Historically, the race has attracted lots of eyes beyond the track, making it a must for advertisers. However, the Melbourne Cup Down Under is now the subject of controversy. In 2023, the Australian department store chain Myer made headlines when it ended its advertising partnership after 40 years. Other brands followed suit. Although there are still many ardent fans, movements such as "Nup to the Cup" have also emerged that oppose the race on animal welfare grounds. According to a report in the Guardian, the race is particularly controversial among younger people. Simon Lee, executive creative director of an independent agency called The Hallway, is quoted as saying: "To put it in a nutshell: It's just not cool enough for younger people anymore."

Whole ‘nother ball game for Australia's national sport, rugby. The AFL Grand Final is a kind of Australian mini version of the Super Bowl, including music interludes and advertising. 70s rock band Kiss performed before the game in 2023, and well-known Australian show stars Mark Seymour & The Undertow and Kate Miller-Heidke appeared at half-time - and companies such as the insurance company AAMI produced elaborate commercials with prominent (Australian) faces.

Around 100,000 people watched the match between Collingwood Football Club and the Brisbane Lions live in the stadium in September 2023, plus around 3.4 million viewers on Channel Seven TV and around 441,000 on the broadcaster's streaming platform 7Plus, the latter a record. In total, around 22% more people watched the final than in the previous year.

With a population of around 25 million, Australia is much smaller than the USA. The figures for the major rugby final event are correspondingly lower: the video of the Kiss performance has so far been viewed around 2.8 million times on YouTube. By comparison Rihanna's performance at Super Bowl LVII last year now has around 208 million views. And the advertising costs for the AFL Grand Final are also significantly lower than for the Super Bowl. At least that's what past figures that have become public suggest: In 2018, the Northern Territory government paid a total of 403,406 Australian dollars for a 60-second spot during the game.

Incidentally, the highest ratings of all time on Australian television were not for a horse race or a rugby match, but for the women's national soccer team. At its peak, more than 11 million Australians watched the semi-final match against the England team in August 2023.

Singles Day & Lunar New Year (China)

Hongbao, the red envelope, symbolizes shopping and commerce in China. Red is the color of happiness in China, making a red envelope the perfect packaging for a few banknotes - especially around New Year, the most important Chinese holiday. The festival, which this year falls on February 10, is a heavy-travel holiday as the Chinese visit their families. When the country's strict Covid regulations were relaxed last year, tourism boomed. But so did business in cinemas, for example. And because people often have to travel long distances to get home, there is theoretically a lot of screen time that can be used for advertising from a brand perspective. Unlike the Super Bowl, this is not about one evening or one game; the New Year celebrations are more comparable to Christmas, where brands in Europe also try to score points with specially produced commercials.

Unlike Singles Day (which is traditionally on November 11 and, like Black Friday in the USA, is a shopping extravaganza, editor's note), the advertising campaigns on Chinese (or Lunar) New Year are not aimed at sales, but rather at branding, says Damian Maib, founder and CEO of the Genuine German agency, which specializes in Chinese retail. And branding in China must be mindful of Chinese conventions and traditions. Take Dolce & Gabbana, for example, which had a veritable shitstorm.

About five years ago, the luxury brand showed an Asian-looking woman in commercials struggling to eat pizza with chopsticks. There was a huge outcry in China, with people accusing the Italian brand of racism for playing on stereotypes. Calls for a boycott followed, and the abbreviation D&G was translated as "Dead & Gone". "Many people look very critically at whether the cultural nuances are understood correctly," says Damian Maib: "If a brand's commercial is successful, it can have a very positive impact on the brand. Conversely, a brand can suffer greatly from a faux pas."

In his view, the 2020 campaign by Nike, for example, is prime example of branding in China done right. "The Great Chase" is about a cat-and-mouse game between an aunt and niece, with the Hongbao at the center. Other brands have also managed to pick up on typical Chinese traditions for their marketing - such as Chinese moon cakes, which were presented in luxurious boxes by brands such as Louis Vuitton. It is unclear how much brands spend on commercials and marketing around Chinese New Year. While it’s unlikely to be cheap, brands seem to be willing to invest significant budgets into Lunar New Year campaigns, as is the case with Apple, who produced a 15-minute film with the iPhone this year and hired director Mark Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man parts 1 & 2, among others) to shoot it.

Carnival (Brazil)

Time magazine has called Carnival in Rio de Janeiro "the world's biggest party." Carnival generates a significant local sales spike, albeit on a completely different level. The multi-day celebrations are thought to have generated around USD 1b in revenue in 2023 alone. Despite that gaudy projection, it’s not been smooth sailing all around in recent years–and that’s without factoring in COVID. Instead, Carnival had to overcome political headwinds as former mayor Marcello Crivella cut funding to the samba schools, which ultimately provide the cultural foundation for the colorful images and eye-catching floats.

However, Carnival is not limited to the streets of Rio, but is a spectacle drawing media attention in other Brazilian cities as well. National broadcaster Globo not only shows the parades, but also advertisements specially produced for this event. There are special package prices for the Carnival days on the channel, says someone who knows the market very well. Fashion, beauty and beverage brands in particular spend a lot of money on advertising during this time, while the huge domestic market in the country with a population of 220 million also makes advertising space particularly attractive for domestic brands.

The most-striking example from last year: according to media reports, beer brand Brahma paid Gisele Bündchen USD 2m for the Brazilian top model to party in the VIP room at Carnival in Rio wearing a skimpy top with Brahma lettering. The pictures were a hit globally—also due in large part to the fact that Bündchen shared them with her more than 22 million followers.

Gisele is probably one of the best-known Brazilians internationally, but others have an even greater reach on social networks. And it's not just fashion designers, who have long since discovered carnival as a stage for their creations, who know how to take advantage of this. Designers Márcio Ferreira and André Bartolo, for example, have made a name for themselves by designing various dresses for celebrities especially for carnival events. The outfits of actress and influencer Paolla Oliveira, who has played a prominent role in the parade for four years in a row as the "Drum Queen" and has more than 36 million followers on Instagram alone, were a particular focus. Some of the photos and videos she shared of her outfit on Instagram last year received two million likes - and one post in which she promoted beer brand Petra received just under 200,000 likes.

Cricket World Cup (India)

Cricket is the national sport of India. The country attracted a great deal of attention last year throughout the Commonwealth when the World Cup was held there from the beginning of October to mid-November. A total of 48 matches were played gave numerous global brands a chance to take advantage and promote themselves and their products, including Coca Cola, Alphabet, Unilever and Saudi Aramco.

A 10-second spot during the final between India and Australia is said to have cost between 25 and 35 million rupees, roughly USD 300,000 to 420,000. Compared to the Super Bowl, it’s a steal—especially when you consider the size of the market, with more than one billion Indians alone. However, the sums paid for advertising for games involving the Indian team are said to have been four to six times higher on average than for the other games. The final then topped everything again. Overall, prices rose by around 40% compared to the last tournament in 2019..

Simultaneously, production costs are also likely to have risen as—just like the Super Bowl—more and more companies are using celebrities in their commercials. From India's number 19 cricketer Rahul David advertising for Indian oil company Bharat Petroleum to Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan promoting the cardamom product Vimal Elaichi, celebrity power was on full display. Google took it one step further showcasing actor Anil Kapoor ("Slumdog Millionaire"), who returned to the role of Mr. India after more than 35 years. Kapoor reprised his role about a man with the power of invisibility—a role that catapulted him into fame—to plug the Pixel smartphone.  

According to media reports, the equivalent of around USD 240m was spent on advertising on streaming platforms alone during the event. There should be potential to further increase advertising revenue in the future. The final of the Cricket World Cup alone lasted around eight hours in total.

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Scott Peterson
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