Super Bowl LV: A record-breaking year for ads and Tom Brady

The game achieved a record $485 million in revenue according to Kantar's initial estimates.
12 February 2021
Super Bowl 2021 Advertising that really worked
elaine chen

VP, Marketing Communications, Media Division, US

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In the lead-up to Super Bowl LV, fans wondered if a post-pandemic big game would measure up to years past. With the majority of viewers avoiding parties and an early lead by the Buccaneers minimizing suspense, this year’s Super Bowl may have lacked some of the excitement of years past. However, it did deliver from an advertising perspective: According to Kantar’s initial estimates, the game achieved a record-breaking $485 million in revenue in a year that saw some significant advertising shifts. 

Higher rates drive higher revenue

While sales were reported to get off to a slower start than usual, CBS was ultimately able to push past the finish line. The approximately 42 minutes in advertising during the game itself (excluding pre- and post-game shows) was actually slightly lower than 2019, which saw 46 minutes of ads. It’s also well below the current record of 51 minutes of ads seen in 2013, the year that a blackout extended game time and also led CBS to rebroadcast some ads to ensure they weren’t skipped. 

This year’s estimated rate of $5.6 million per 30-second slot reflects a 6.7% increase over last year’s $5.25 million – which in turn was 9% higher than 2018. The Super Bowl does offer reach and ROI that typically exceeds other broadcast events, but it remains to be seen whether these rates of increase will remain sustainable in light of ratings fluctuations that have been driven in part by higher levels of streaming. (Please note that Kantar rate estimates do not include any special incentives that may have been offered to advertisers.)


The half-billion dollar investment bought a total of 64 separate spots, with 38% of the ads using extended formats of a minute or more – like Jeep’s supersized, and now ill-fated, two-minute ad starring Bruce Springsteen. (Jeep has swiftly had to pull the ad following reports of a previous drunk driving arrest by the musician.) This is part of a larger trend towards longer ads that presumably help deliver higher impact: 44% of last year’s ads were a minute or longer. 

Streaming takes on a bigger role

While both Hyundai and Ford chose to sit out this year’s game, automotive still remained the top category at $72 million, or 15% of total spend; last year, automotive brands were responsible for $84 million, or close to 19% of spend.

Anheuser’s choice to cancel a planned ad for its flagship brand and devote the funds to COVID-19 education got a lot of headlines, but didn’t keep alcoholic beverages out of the second slot. The category spent $53 million on ads during the game, representing 11% of total revenue – higher than the 9% of spend for the category in 2019. 

Meanwhile, streaming services jumped up from fourth to third place with a significant $50 million in spend, or 10% of the total – far higher than the $26 million spent in 2019. This is due in large part to the major boost CBS gave to its own Paramount Plus service, which is launching in early March. The brand had a total of 2 minutes and 50 seconds of ad time during the game, which in and of itself is valued at $32 million.  

Newcomers take the day

With long-term advertisers like Coke sitting out the game, first-time advertisers had an unprecedented opportunity to become part of this signature event. A stunning total of 26 first-time advertisers had their Super Bowl debut this year, compared to just seven in each of the last two years. They included everything from established brands like Huggies and Miracle-Gro to ecommerce players like, Mercari and Klarna and some quirky entries from Oatly and Dr. Squatch.  

According to Kantar’s Link AI creative measurement tool, a number of these brands took full advantage of this opportunity with strong creative: The Dexcom insulin monitoring solution ranked in the top 20% in both brand awareness and likelihood of driving short-term impact, helped by spokesperson Nick Jonas. Meanwhile, Hellman’s “Fairy God Mayo” spot featuring Amy Schumer landed it in the top 15% for driving short-term sales. 

To learn more about the creative and messaging strategies that won Super Bowl LV, click here to view Kantar’s full post-game analysis of over 90 current and past Super Bowl ads driven by Link AI. 

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