A Behind-the-Scenes Look at How Super Bowl Commercials Are Really Made

lindsay lohan's planet fitness commercial

Getty Images

And details on the most-talked-about ads of 2024.

Millions of dollars, months of preparation, and all hands on deck. That’s what it takes to create the 30 seconds of footage that will flash across TV screens in millions of American households this Sunday during the Super Bowl.

This year, a record number of Americans are expected to tune into the big game. A survey from the National Retail Federation estimates that more than 200 million — that’s well over half of all Americans — plan to watch the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers (and possibly Taylor Swift) in Super Bowl LVIII, making it not only the biggest day in sports but also the biggest day for ads.

Every year, companies shell out ludicrous amounts of money to be featured for mere seconds during the game — and we’ve got an inside look at how these big-budget commercials get made.

How much does a Super Bowl commercial cost?

Last year, some companies shelled out over $7 million just for the rights to air a commercial during the event. That’s up from a rate of about $6.5 million for a 30-second spot in 2021, Amna Kirmani, a marketing professor at the University of Maryland told us. 

“That’s just a ridiculous amount of money,” Kirmani says. But the research continues to show that for emerging businesses like the handful of cryptocurrency companies that bought spots during the game in 2022 (think Larry David’s now supremely ironic FTX spot) and even for big, legacy brands like Anheuser Busch, Frito-Lay, and Coca-Cola “the return on investment is very high,” she says. A splashy commercial creates brand awareness and signals to consumers that these companies are thriving with money to burn. 

“For some companies, they blow their entire year’s advertising budget on this because they can make such a splash,” Kirmani says.

How long does it take to make a Super Bowl commercial?

Conceptualizing the next “Where’s the Beef?,” wrangling celebrity cameos, and coordinating shoots is an extremely intricate process, which is why planning for these commercials typically occurs several months in advance, Ad Age editor Jeanine Poggi told us back in 2022. (In 2022, 85 percent of commercial slots sold out the week before the NFL season even opened, NBC reported.) That also gives ad agencies some flexibility, allowing them to shoot multiple concepts and adjust storylines before Super Bowl Sunday, Kirmani says. 

But that wasn’t the case for Planet Fitness, which decided in the back half of 2021 to pursue a campaign, according to Jamie Medeiros, the fitness chain’s Vice President of Marketing. 

“We’ve always talked about how we were really well-positioned for a Super Bowl spot,” she told us ahead of Super Bowl LVI. “But as we started planning for 2022, we really looked at where we were as an organization and where we were with the pandemic and felt like this was the right call to make.”

The company began working with ad agency Publicis Worldwide in the fall of 2021, shot the spot over a few days in some of its gyms, produced the commercial in December, and released it in the weeks ahead of the game.

It’s the first commercial Planet Fitness has aired during the Super Bowl and was one of the most talked-about spots of the year. It features Lindsay Lohan working out at a Planet Fitness gym, radiating a post-workout glow and seemingly sharper, calmer, and healthier because of it. It also pokes fun at her hard-partying past, even dropping a mention of her 2007 DUI, and includes cameos from William Shatner, Dennis Rodman, and Danny Trejo. 

“One of the things that we really wanted to communicate was all the different benefits of fitness, including stress relief and better sleep. But we also wanted to highlight what makes us unique” Medeiros told us. “We really are affordable, accessible, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Creating a commercial with a little humor was also important, Medeiros said, and when it came down to it “there was definitely not another choice other than Lindsay.”

“Who she is and her unassuming nature, her ability to be relatable, is so core to our beliefs as a brand. She’s also made fitness a priority in her life, and that was really important for us too,” Medeiros said. “She was a great collaborator through the whole process.”

The most anticipated Super Bowl commercials for 2024

You can expect some serious star power in this year’s ads. The commercials — like last year’s — are absolutely stuffed with celebs. The Wall Street Journal reports that more than 40 percent of 2023’s commercials featured multiple stars, a nearly sixfold increase since 2010.

Michelob Ultra’s tapped Lionel Messi, Jason Sudeikis, and Dan Marino; BIC (the pen and lighter brand) has recruited Snoop Dogg, Martha Stewart, and Willie Nelson; and BMW’s teamed up Christopher Walken, Ashley Park, and this year’s halftime performer Usher.

Experts say advertisers are leaning more and more on celebrity endorsements because of the buzz they can generate on social media. A superstar can amplify a brand’s message simply by posting it on Instagram for their millions of followers to view.

“It’s not trivial. The commercials are really like the Super Bowl of the ad industry,” Kirmani says.