The Super Bowl is the premier advertising event in the country, and Anheuser-Busch InBev is its premier advertiser. It’s been that way virtually since the game’s beginning. “If Anheuser-Busch ‘owned’ the game, it wasn’t just because it ran more spots than anyone else,” wrote the late Bernice Kanner in her seminal 2003 survey, “The Super Bowl of Advertising,” “but because it entertained so well.”
It’s true that A-B (and after its 2008 InBev takeover, ABI) has produced some of the most entertaining and iconic commercials ever to grace Big Game air, from the “Bud-WEIS-er” bullfrogs and Spuds Mackenzie, to the Bud Bowl series, “I love you, man,” and so many more. Of course, the macrobrewer’s legitimate marketing might and deep pockets — since 2000, ABI has outspent every other Super Bowl advertiser more than two-to-one, according to data from the market research firm Kantar Group — aren’t the only factors that dictate its “ownership” of Big Game airwaves. Since 1989, the House That Bud Built has negotiated the exclusive right to advertise beer during the national Super Bowl telecast. And if that sounds outrageous, get this: For many years, it was actually the only alcoholic beverage company allowed to advertise during the game, period.
You can read more about this remarkable run of exclusivity in our main story here, or follow the timeline below for a chronological trip down memory lane. You’ll find key milestones in Super Bowl advertising history with an emphasis on ABI’s achievements advertainment and dealmaking alike, plus the list price of a 30-second in-game spot on that year’s national Super Bowl broadcast (tracked by ad archive SuperBowl-Ads.com) noted in parentheses for reference.
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A few caveats to keep in mind before we get into it:
- On the passage of time: ABI today says that it has been the exclusive alcohol advertiser dating back to 1975, but contemporary reporting and the company’s own press releases more often point to 1989 as the year its exclusivity began, and advertising archives index beer commercials in the Big Game well into the ‘80s. We’ve opted to mark the latter year here, but know that there’s some ambiguity around the dates. (If you can help us pin down the exact date, please get in touch!)
- On the staggering sums: ABI doesn’t disclose how much it pays for the privilege of exclusivity, and sources tell VinePair that the deal is likely part of a package of Super Bowl and non-Super Bowl inventory that the macrobrewer agrees to purchase from each network, making the actual outlay tough to tease out as a line item. As for the figures below, those are retail prices, and an advertiser ABI’s size doesn’t pay retail. “[T]hat would be like buying a car for the sticker price,” wrote Kanner.
Ah, history: a living thing! Anyway, without further ado, VinePair presents the Anheuser-Busch Super Bowl Advertising Timeline:
- 1967 ($37,500-$42,500 for 30 seconds of national air): The Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I (then known as the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.”) There are TV commercials, but no record of A-B’s brands. Though the spots in Super Bowl I weren’t high-dollar affairs, they “carried considerable clout,” according to Kanner. “A Winston cigarette commercial … still running when action resumed after halftime prompted the refs to whistle the opening kick dead.” Apparently, Vince Lombardi was pissed!
- 1969 ($55,000): The league officially christens its championship game the Super Bowl. According to Adland.tv, a Super Bowl advertising archive, A-B’s brands remain absent from the air.
- 1975 ($107,000): Anheuser-Busch begins what will eventually become 47 consecutive years of Super Bowl advertising (and counting!) Still, commercials remained second fiddle to football throughout the ‘70s. “While the game gained popularity, its advertising remained largely pedestrian,” wrote Kanner. The going rate for 30-second slots jumps from $78,000 in 1970 to over $220,000 in 1980.
- 1983 ($400,000): Budweiser Light, introduced in 1982 to protect A-B’s flanks from Miller’s pioneering, popular, and (to Busch brass) pesky Lite brand, makes its Super Bowl debut.
- 1984 ($368,200): Apple airs its now-iconic, Orwell-inspired ad, which goes over huge and ups the creative ante for brands across categories. Kanner: “It launched the genre of advertising as an event and transformed the Super Bowl into an advertising showcase.” Apple paid a million bucks for the spot, or $500,000 per 30-second block.
- 1986 ($550,000): The Budweiser Clydesdales get their first starring role in a Super Bowl spot, and Bud Light shows off its newly shortened name. Despite not yet owning exclusive beer rights, Anheuser-Busch is the only brewer to buy national air this year, per Kanner.
- 1987 ($600,000): Super Bowl viewers meet Spuds Mackenzie, Bud Light’s “Original Party Animal” spokesdog, for the first time.
- 1989 ($657,500): A-B negotiates exclusive ad rights for the national Super Bowl broadcast, boxing out not just other beer brands, but all alcohol. (Functionally, this only mattered for wine companies, because the post-Prohibition spirits industry voluntarily refrained from TV advertising until 1996.) The company hits it huge this year with the Bud Bowl: animatronic Budweiser and Bud Light bottles squaring off in a multi-spot spoof football game. The campaign plays out over six spots that cost A-B a cumulative $5 million.
- 1995 ($1.15 million): The “Bud-WEIS-er” frogs and Bud Light’s “I love you, man” campaigns both debut, and both kill. For the first time in the game’s history, 30-second spots cost more than a million dollars. According to Adland.tv, A-B buys four minutes’ worth.
- 1998 ($1.291 million): “Budweiser paid more for eight minutes on SB XXXII ($16.8 million) than the average candidate spent to win a seat in the U.S. Senate,” according to Kanner.
- 1999 ($1.6 million): A-B vice president of marketing and heir-apparent to the family business, August Busch IV, announces that the company has signed deals with ABC, CBS, and Fox to guarantee its exclusivity for another three years. “And we don’t intend to ever give it up,” then-brand management VP Bob Lachky told The New York Times. The company also wins USAToday’s Ad Meter with “Dalmatians get different jobs” — its first overall victory since the ranking launched in 1989. It’s the beginning of a record-setting 10-year streak atop the Ad Meter that still stands today.
- 2000 ($2.1 million): The company takes a chance on an ad pitch based off an underground short film that made the agency rounds on VHS and strikes gold. Budweiser’s “Whassup?” is an instant classic that enters the American lexicon and, later, the Clio Hall of Fame.
- 2003 ($2.2 million): Coors Brewing Company inks its first-ever deal with the National Football League for a reported $300 million in 2002, making Coors Light the league’s official sponsor and nabbing rights to its playoff and Super Bowl logos for this year’s post-season play from A-B and Miller. Despite the Colorado coup, A-B still owns the national in-game broadcast, but in a sign of things to come, the Silver Bullet makes an “end run” around the blackout, buying spots directly before and after the game and doing branded Super Bowl parties in many cities. Publicly, at least, the King of Beers remains unfazed, buying five minutes of commercial time. “The only [things] we aren’t reaching are prairie dogs and cactus,” Tony Ponturo, A-B VP of global media and sports marketing, tells The Wall Street Journal.
- 2006 ($2.5 million): The world’s biggest beer company announces new Super Bowl deals with CBS, Fox, and NBC, confirming its category exclusivity on the national broadcast for another next six years. Terms are not disclosed.
- 2011 ($3.1 million): A-B re-ups its Super Bowl exclusivity with the networks through 2014 for an undisclosed sum. This season, it also retakes the “official beer sponsor” mantle from Coors in a six-year deal (signed in 2010) worth a reported $1 billion. The U.S. brewing landscape has changed since the last time the league’s lager of record hailed from St. Louis. In 2008, A-B succumbed to a hostile takeover by the Belgian-Brazilian conglomerate InBev, becoming ABI; the same year, Miller and Coors entered a joint venture as MillerCoors. The Associate Press reports ABI’s billion-dollar purchase is double what its rival paid to extend its deal six years prior.
- 2014 ($4 million): To get around ABI’s blackout, Newcastle produces a web-only campaign anchored by actress Anna Kendrick. “If We Made It” is a viral sensation, generating 600 media stories and opening up a new front in the end run wars. On actual TV, Budweiser scores top Ad Meter marks with “Puppy Love,” but after determining they don’t move enough cases, the cute canines get sent to a nice farm upstate. (Metaphorically speaking.) (Hopefully.)
- 2015 ($4.25 million): Even as ABI’s decade-long craft brewery acquisition tear heats up, Budweiser runs “Brewed the Hard Way,” a categorical punch-down from the King of Beers that some small brewers take personally. This is also the year the company pays a reported $250 million per year to maintain Bud Light’s status as the NFL’s official beer through 2022. Notably, this deal blocks wine brands but does not block spirits brands, a sign that the NFL has recognized a growing advertising appetite among liquor companies and hopes to cash in separately.
- 2016 ($4.5 million): Craft beer gets its first Super Bowl ad! But craft brewers take no victory laps, because the beer in question is Shock Top, ABI’s citrus-y in-house creation.
- 2018 ($5.2 million): As the first American craft brewery ABI acquired back in 2011, Goose Island was the canary in the coal mine as macrobrewers buy up other craft beer outfits. As just one player in ABI’s portfolio, the Chicago brewery’s barrelage is slipping — which gives the brand’s behind-the-curtain “Super Bowl spot that wasn’t” a grim inflection for those in the know.
- 2021 ($5.5 million): For the first time since 1989, the Budweiser brand skips the Super Bowl; ABI donates the air to promote Covid-19 vaccine awareness instead. In December, the firm announces yet another deal to extend Bud Light’s NFL sponsorship through the 2026-2027 season. The pact also affirms the company’s Super Bowl exclusivity, but for beer/hard seltzer only. This is also the year Diageo PLC, the world’s biggest spirits company, becomes the NFL’s first official spirit partner. “With Diageo now a league spirits sponsor, A-BI no longer has broad-based alcohol exclusivity. … Sources said the league was ‘exploring opportunities’ in the wine/champagne categories,” reports Sports Business Journal.
This year, Super Bowl LVI’s 30-second in-game spots are commanding around $6.5 million on the national telecast, and ABI will run four minutes’ worth. Even with a hearty discount, that much airtime adds up to a staggering sum. But even in the age of many screens and fragmenting media ecosystems, Big Game advertising still plays for ABI. Want to know why? Check out VinePair’s full report here.