What’s in Store for Super Bowl Advertising?

By John Licardi  | 

Football season has reached its midway mark, which means brands are planning for the big culminating event: Super Bowl LV, set to air February 7 on CBS. Ad buys look somewhat different this year as marketers consider how a possible Covid postponement could derail plans, but the potential payoff also promises to be huge. After all, more people at home means more fans glued to their TVs. We take a look at where ad sales stand so far, plus which brands are planning to return or sit out this year’s game.

Marketing Matters
Last year’s Big Game was a huge win for Fox, which marked its largest revenue day in television history with over 113 million people watching. The network also sold out its ad inventory at record speed, moving all 77 units (some for as much as $5.6 million per 30-second spot) 10 weeks before game time. Talks this year are proceeding at a slightly slower pace, which isn’t surprising given the unusual season that saw football sidelined for weeks as a result of Covid-19 lockdowns. Still, CBS has sold all A position spots, with some 30-second ads going for $5.5 million a pop — plus an extra $300,000 for digital livestream inclusion. Nailing down this year’s creative tone may prove to be the trickiest task for marketers. Ribald humor or tongue-in-cheek jabs, often Super Bowl ad staples, might not be well received after months of economic uncertainty, political unrest and ongoing pandemic concerns. There may also be fewer on-site activation opportunities, but the NFL is “working on a host of Super Bowl plans” that could include filling Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium to 20 percent capacity and featuring a halftime show, details of which have yet to be announced.

In It to Win It
Travel, auto and theatrical brands typically deliver blockbuster Super Bowl spots, but those were also among the categories hardest hit by the pandemic. Some marketers may choose to sit out the upcoming game, while others, like Mars Wrigley, have already signed on for the iconic event. Last February, the candy maker featured Snickers in its “fix the world” spot—which, in hindsight, seems oddly prescient. Skittles and M&Ms, both part of the Mars Wrigley family, have likewise made big game appearances. But the company has not yet announced which sweet brand will be the focus of Game LV.  Super Bowl messaging for WeatherTech, which will return for its eighth consecutive year, has historically focused on heartfelt, pro-American themes. In October, the company debuted a new line of protective face shields that could appear on game day.

Sidelined for the Season
Avocados from Mexico, the nonprofit marketing group that may be singularly responsible for Americans’ copious guacamole consumption, has played the Super Bowl ad game since 2015. Their quirky spots helped net 34 billion impressions between digital and PR, but they were also first to announce they’ll be taking a pass in 2021. Company CEO Alvaro Luque announced they’ll use this time to reinvent the organization, focusing on new forays like ecommerce and mass personalization, before likely returning to the Big Game in 2022.

Much like brands that advertised through the early months of the pandemic after adapting their messaging to suit the time, the unique circumstances of this year’s Super Bowl could present a rare opportunity for brands to deliver novel campaigns reaching a larger-than-ever captive audience. Another upshot? While in-game spots may not be selling out quite as quickly this year, streaming is likely to attract a bigger audience than ever. And there’s good news for cord cutters who are fans of Super Bowl advertising. The national spots on the CBS digital livestream will be the same as those airing on the linear TV broadcast. Get the guacamole and chips ready!

John Licardi
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