Many of the traditional big players are sitting out this year’s event, but research shows that some brand awareness is already baked in for longstanding advertisers.
By Ted Kitterman
Is the Super Bowl worth the spend this year, when in-person attendance will be a fraction of the usual hoopla for the year’s biggest U.S. sporting event? When you look at the numbers, some of that affinity might already be baked in for audiences.
Budweiser made headlines when it said it wouldn’t air an advertisement for the big game, instead giving its TV time over to COVID-19 vaccination efforts. The move was lauded by many, though the praise felt overdone for some. And Anheuser-Busch is still airing ads for other brands such as Bud Light and Michelob Ultra.
And even though this year’s big game won’t feature the iconic Clydesdale horses from ads of yore, many audience members will still be thinking of the popular beer company on game day. According to the Morning Consult, 29% of Americans say Budweiser’s commercials stand out in their memory when they think of the Super Bowl.
Other Super Bowl mainstays will still have skin in the game come kickoff. Doritos, which Morning Consult says has dominated the popular “chips” category of Super Bowl ads, will return with an ad this year. Though Pepsi won’t advertise for its soda brand (focusing instead on its Halftime Show investment), parent company PepsiCo will advertise for brands including Doritos.
Whether the Super Bowl is worth the investment this year depends on your point of view, says Rick French, chairman and CEO for French/West/Vaughn.
“From a pure reach standpoint, yes,” French says, the Super Bowl is still a worthy investment. “It still offers a relatively justifiable cost per impression. But is it worth spending $5.5 million on a single spot, plus the typically high cost of producing a Super Bowl-worthy ad that will get people talking?”
If you have deep pockets, the Super Bowl is an important part of your strategy, but French argues that challenger brands should look elsewhere.
As to what messaging is standing out, French says that this year has been “a mixed bag.”
“Typically, humorous or warm and fuzzy ads that tug at the heartstrings resonate best with viewers, but we are expecting to see more socially conscious and cause-related spots this year,” he says. “Advertisers are also releasing their ads early, as opposed to holding them for Super Bowl Sunday, so as to capture word of mouth, social media buzz and earned media impressions in advance of the game.”
‘A Super Bowl like no other’
It’s been a disruptive year for the entertainment sports industry, and brands keen to engage with sports fans are having to adapt their approach. For French, who has a long personal history of attending the big game (he’s been to 18 in a row) and working the many events around the Super Bowl, this year will just be quite different. For one, he won’t be making the trip.
“Nearly all of the corporate events, parties and concerts that comprise Super Bowl week have been canceled this year,” French says. “Media row is not happening, except for a select few broadcasters; and there will be a limited number of fans in the stands. Most of the brands with which we work, and players we represent, that typically participate in the lead up to the Super Bowl in some way are taking a muted approach to this year’s game, which is probably the right tone to strike given everything we have all collectively endured over the past year.”
French is optimistic about the return of the Super Bowl as it once was after the COVID-19 crisis has passed.
“I think we will see a more jovial tone to next year’s advertising, assuming we can get the pandemic under control,” he says. “I also would not be surprised to see advertisers lean into the value of good friends and family and a renewed appreciation for both as we begin to socialize with one another again post-COVID-19, whenever that may be.”
For brands looking to grab a share of the game day spotlight, French says there is plenty of opportunity when looking at the overall consumer interest in the game, with many people still stuck at home waiting out the virus.
“Viewership may very well set an all-time record this year, despite NFL ratings being down this season, because more people will be watching at home, as opposed to enjoying the game in bars and at house parties with friends,” he says.
However, with more attention comes more responsibility. “More attention will be paid to the tonality of the ads, so advertisers need to strike the right balance given the mood of the country,” he says. “The same can be said for ambush marketers and brands looking to engage fans and followers on social media.”
To have success on the day of the Super Bowl, be funny and heartfelt, and deliver more than a sales pitch. “Make me laugh or make me feel something, just don’t leave me feeling like all you care about is selling your products or services,” French says.