Super Bowl LI (51) is right around the corner. Sunday February 5. New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons. Moreover, Lady Gaga will entertain us at halftime. This year’s game, televised nationally by FOX, will be played in Houston at NRG Stadium. It is the third time the Super Bowl will be played in Houston.

Obviously most of us will not be attending the game, but rather watching the game at home (or at a social gathering of some kind). The expectation is for 110+MM US viewers and much more abroad. The US viewership will translate into roughly 55 Million homes or more than 70% of Homes Using TV.

The advertiser line-up is a mix of old faithfuls and newbies as follows:

84 Lumber
Avocados from Mexico
Kia Motors
Mr. Clean
Turbo Tax

As we think about the game ahead, we are reminded about the history of the Super Bowl, which began as the Championship game between what was then the NFL and the start-up AFL. The first “Super Bowl” was played on January 15, 1967 featuring the NFL Champion Green Bay Packers against the AFL Champion Kansas City Chiefs.

Historians will remind us that the two rival leagues had not even merged yet and would not do so until after the third Super Bowl. After a competitive first half, Green Bay, led by legendary Coach Vince Lombardi, easily won by a score of 35-10. Al Hirt was the halftime talent. He had no dancers. Interestingly the NFL Network was able to piece together the original broadcast.

The first “Super Bowl” really was not even “super”. It was merely called the AFL-NFL World Championship game and was played at a neutral site, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the stadium where the LA Rams now play. The term “Super Bowl” was an off-handed comment made by Chiefs owner, Lamar Hunt based on his granddaughter’s love of the “super ball” toy. The Super Bowl name stuck and it took on the official name after the third game.

The first game was not a super event in other ways too. It was not sold out, despite modest ticket prices ($12) and a local TV blackout. Guess it was a good beach day in LA that day. The first game was broadcast on two networks, CBS, which carried NFL games, and NBC, which carried AFL games. CBS charged $85,000 for a 60-second commercial, and NBC charged $75,000. The game achieved a combined 41 household rating with 51 million viewers.

This year’s advertisers will be paying up to $5 million for each 30 second commercial, roughly $166,600 per second, which more than the cost of a full :60 on both CBS and NBC’s broadcast.

The question is always: Is this worth it for the advertiser? The firm answer is; Maybe.

There are some mitigating factors when considering the value of an ad in the Super Bowl:

1. There is no comparable event to reach such a significant mass audience. In today’s fragmented media world, there is no single program capable of delivering the audience that the Super Bowl does. There are very few “water cooler” events on TV with a similar impact.

2. The Super Bowl is far more than a game that delivers a large audience. It is a happening. That carries with it a value far greater than mere exposure. What makes advertising in the Super Bowl more powerful today is that the commercials are usually part of an elaborate campaign that also includes social media.

The real “value” of Super Bowl advertising is not found solely in the mathematical CPM. There is no event where the ads are often as noteworthy as the game itself, where millions of Americans gather with friends and family to analyze the ads as they appear. To advertisers, this represents an enormous opportunity to introduce a new commercial, which is often part of a new mega-promotional campaign that extends beyond traditional advertising.

What this means is that if you are going to be a Super Bowl advertiser, then the spot needs to be great—not just good. Because there is nothing worse than spending $5 Million and then being slammed on Monday for airing a weak commercial. In addition, your spot needs to be more than merely effective. To justify the hype, it needs to be a “mini-film” that others will want to view repeatedly. Therefore talking babies, animals, big production, celebrity talent, etc. should be part of the plan.

However, if you hit creative pay dirt and create a spot that is a big as the Super Bowl itself, get mega social spin, and really want the bang of reaching the widest possible audience, then $5 Million may be a price worth paying.

Either way, big game straight ahead.