Still from the John Lewis Christmas ad 2023 showing a venus flytrap opposite a young boy wearing a wool hat

Is the era of the blockbuster TV ad over?

While a splashy 90-second used to be a sure-fire way for brands to win Christmas or the Super Bowl, the reality of a fragmented media landscape means that even a blockbuster TV ad is just another piece of content now

Making a blockbuster TV ad has long been seen as the pinnacle of the marketing world. The biggest live sporting event in the US – the Super Bowl – also happens to be the splashiest date in the advertising calendar, having brought us legendary campaigns such as Budweiser’s Whassup! and It’s a Tide Ad over the years. For 2023’s event, nabbing a coveted 30-second commercial spot set brands back an eye-watering $7 million on average, according to Forbes.

Similarly, in the UK, the annual unveiling of the John Lewis Christmas ad became something of a cultural institution during the department store’s 14-year partnership with adam&eveDDB. The success of campaigns such as the Dougal Wilson-directed The Long Wait in 2011 spawned something of a Christmas advertising arms race, as hoards of other brands hankered after their own festive tearjerker.

This picture provides a stark contrast to the well-documented decline of broadcast TV more generally, as people’s viewing habits increasingly shift towards streaming and social. This year actually saw TV drop out of marketers’ list of preferred ad channels for the first time, according to research from Kantar. But as brands grapple with ongoing economic uncertainty and an increasingly fragmented media landscape, it appears that even the cultural cachet of the blockbuster TV ad could be beginning to wane.