The tortoise beats the hare. That’s the theme of a new ad from Mercedes that will air during the Super Bowl on Sunday, in front of more than 100m viewers. The ad’s 60-second time slot likely cost more than $15m to secure. NBC’s Super Bowl ad prices have risen by about 10 per cent from last year. They are sold out. Television advertising is not dead.

Super Bowl advertising has itself become a contest. As the biggest US advertising event of the year, it is an annual milestone in the competition between TV advertising (a $190bn global market) and online advertising ($120bn, and growing fast). This competition is not a zero-sum game, of course: Super Bowl TV advertisers all have social media campaigns and digital ads, too. NBC will take in more than $300m in Super Bowl-related ad sales, according to Kantar Media. Digital ad companies benefit too. Facebook has launched a dedicated Super Bowl page, and Twitter is expecting a boost in viewers and ad revenue from the event.

While TV ad spending is growing, digital ad sales are growing much faster (in the mature US market, eMarketer expects digital ad sales to overtake TV by 2018). Some companies are eschewing TV ads in this year’s Super Bowl. Volvo did not buy a TV spot but instead encourages Super Bowl viewers to tweet to Volvo during the game, in return for a chance to win a car.

Digital spending is expected to keep growing as advertisers catch up with the watching habits. Viewers spend half their time on digital platforms, yet this is just a third of ad budgets, according to Macquarie. The disparity is even greater on mobile, which accounts for a quarter of time spent but less than 10 per cent of ad budgets. For the TV networks, while revenue has been hurt by an ad slump, all is not gloomy – they also benefit from digital ad spending, as more viewers watch their programming on phones and tablets. The race is not over.

Email the Lex team at

Get alerts on National Broadcasting Co Inc when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Follow the topics in this article