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How Super Bowl Commercials Work

From Concept to Broadcast: Creating an Ad

A Super Bowl commercial starts with a decision by company executives. They will have a general idea of the type of campaign they want to run and the product or feature they want to emphasize. This helps them select who will design the actual ad campaign and the commercial itself. For example, the ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky is known for creating humorous, edgy campaigns that attract a lot of attention -- including a trio of controversial ads for Groupon poking fun at the idea of charity that aired during the 2011 Super Bowl. Wieden+Kennedy is known for creating emotionally resonant ads for global megabrands like Coca-Cola and Nike. Some companies, like Hyundai and GoDaddy, have their own in-house advertising teams that handle these projects [source: Steinberg].

From there, the ad agency's creative team will work on concepts and pitches for the ad itself. Then they have to be reviewed by the company running the ads. The exact cost of the ad agency's efforts are tough to pin down. If the agency is in-house, it's just part of the overall ad budget. Even if it's an outside agency, the Super Bowl project might be part of a larger contract that covers multiple ad campaigns. Plus, rates vary widely from agency to agency. It's safe to say that most big-name agencies bring in at least six figures for a project as big as a Super Bowl commercial, and some might bring in $1 million or more.

Once the commercial itself has been created, it gets handed off to a production team. They have to assemble actors, computer programmers and effects specialists, all the various technical personnel required for lighting and sound, plus a director. Here again, costs vary tremendously. Does your commercial use no-name actors, or A-list movie stars? Are you using a huge Hollywood director like Ridley Scott (who famously directed Apple's "1984" commercial)? Is it a simple setup with people talking or a car driving around, or do you need hundreds of extras and elaborate computer effects?

Once you've shot your ad, how does it end up on the air? We'll discuss that on the next page.