Super Bowl Ads Strive to Strike the Right Tone  

By John Licardi  | 

Super Bowl parties likely won’t be as widespread this year, with a reported 70 percent of viewers planning to forgo large gatherings due to Covid concerns. But that won’t stop football fans from tuning into the Big Game—or the accompanying ads. Kantar estimates the average cost of a 30-second spot at $5.6 million, up 7 percent from last year, which had been the highest-grossing year to date. So, what can we expect from advertising messaging on February 7? Here’s what we know so far.

Make it Funny
Comical ads have a long history of Super Bowl popularity, and as a nation we’re arguably in need of a collective laugh. Mars Inc. announced plans to sweeten the first quarter of the game with a funny 30-second spot featuring its iconic M&Ms characters. The campaign’s goal will be to “inspire people to find ways of connecting with each other” and smile after a year of being divided, according to company reps. Relief feels de rigueur—we’re all ready to return to normal. Celebrities may also appear in more of this year’s spots, due in part to suspended film productions caused by the coronavirus. Ditto for athletes who have extra time. PepsiCo brands Cheetos and Doritos plan to introduce new snack products with ads that could include A-listers Ashton Kutcher, Mindy Kaling and Jimmy Kimmel, plus NFL stars like Eli Manning, Peyton Manning and Joe Montana.

Take a Stand, but Skip the Politics
Super Bowl ad themes have run the gamut in recent years, covering topics from cyberbullying to domestic violence to gender stereotyping. But 2020 was dominated by two main topics: global Covid-19 outbreaks and protests against racial inequality. Sixty percent of US adults plan to watch this year’s Super Bowl and 60 percent of those spectators believe brands should emphasize social justice in their game-day ads, according to Morning Consult survey from mid-December. Respondents at that time favored messaging that supports military veterans, along with notes of thanks to essential workers and frontline healthcare responders. Ads calling for national unity, support of Black Lives Matter and Covid-19 vaccinations also struck a chord in that survey.  Moreover, 77 percent of Morning Consult responders voiced approval for messaging urging Americans to wear masks to help stop the spread. As always, striking the right tone is tricky. Sincerity is essential when it comes to social justice campaigns. Likewise, marketers would be smart to avoid overtly political messages, as 54 percent of likely viewers believe political advertising would be inappropriate on game day. That sentiment is no doubt even stronger now, given the events of early January.

Ready to Play
Look for three brand debuts this year, including a spot from online car dealer Vroom that spoofs the often-painful process of shopping for a vehicle. Scotts Miracle-Gro is riding the wave of a pandemic-inspired gardening boom and will feature a second-quarter spot full of celebrity appearances. Finally, online jobs platform Fiverr plans to play up its role as a resource for freelancers with a continuation of “It Starts Here,” a campaign that kicked off in September. TurboTax, Toyota, WeatherTech, Mountain Dew and Pringles are all planning repeat appearances, but Pepsi has a different strategy in the works. Rather than a game-day ad, the soda brand will run a national TV campaign promoting its tenth annual sponsorship of the halftime show, headlined this year by The Weeknd.

Last year Fox pulled in $435 million in ad revenue for in-game spots, selling out in late November. With CBS having sold nearly 80 percent of its ad inventory by early December, fans and marketers are alike are eager to see what this year’s creative will bring.

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