Super Bowl LV – An Advertising Minefield

The Super Bowl is the biggest advertising event of the year, with companies paying as much as 5.5 million USD for just 30 seconds of airtime during the game to showcase the very best creativity that their marketing team has to offer. However, mentions of the Super Bowl have been down 78% this year on social media compared to last year, according to Mintel reports, attracting only 96.4 million viewers, a low not reached since the 2007 Super Bowl, 14 years earlier. This has led to questions as to what cultural role the championship game has played against the backdrop of a divided country facing a pandemic and an economic crisis. Conversations on social media reflected increasing negative sentiment about the event, only 64% of which were positive, compared to 91% in the same period last year. This emotionally charged environment has made the event an advertising minefield, causing big brand names such as Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Budweiser to opt out of advertising at all this year. This may lead to a different form of advertising, as consumers are becoming increasingly more vocal and sensitive. However, this may present an opportunity for certain brands, while other brands may not be prepared to risk the wrath of the consumer.

It could be argued that it is not worth the risk for brands to advertise in the traditional manner during Superbowl breaks, because of how difficult it is at the moment to strike the right tone with consumer bases. Coca Cola made the decision not to advertise at CBS’ broadcast of Super Bowl LV, “to ensure we are investing in the right resources during these unprecedented times”. Indeed, it is a good opportunity to reallocate resources to COVID-19 relief, or social justice, with a 30 second advert costing the same as last year despite current economic difficulties. However, despite the parent brands Pepsi and Budweiser pulling out of Super Bowl commercials, they are still running adverts for their sub and sister brands, such as Bud Light. This has resulted in positive sentiment regarding Super Bowl adverts dropping from 82% to 51%, according to Mintel social media analysis, year on year, as consumers are ready and willing to call out companies for virtue signalling by pulling out to generate public good will, whilst still advertising related brands. This would suggest that companies are best placed to attempt to entertain consumers, as a welcome distraction to the volatility of the world’s political, social and economic environment; playing consumers’ emotional side is what seems to be dangerous due to the high risk of appearing disingenuous.

Despite the failure of brands in general to capture the hearts of the nation with their Superbowl adverts, or lack thereof, this year, the highly charged environment should be seen as an opportunity to learn for the future. It is a time to question how to address social responsibility at a time when there is so much to help with; the pandemic and ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement being just a couple of the headlines in recent times. For example, Budweiser, somewhat ironically, very publicly advertised that it was not going to advertise at the Super Bowl, running a promotional video of healthcare workers and vaccine administration instead. However, this resulted in mixed reception from the public, with Sara Nettesheim, Mintel Consumer Insights Analyst, pointing out that although the intention was to generate goodwill for the brand, “social conversations about the brand are majority negative. One tweet from a consumer read “Budweiser is skipping the Super Bowl ads this year for the first time since ‘83, instead they’re funding get-the-vaccine ads. Surely those ads won’t have a Budweiser logo, right? Pure altruism?”. In contrast, Huggies ran their first ever Super Bowl advert and topped the ratings at 5.4 out of 5.9 on market research company’s System1 Group’s scale, which measures the emotional reaction of viewers across social media platforms. Huggies achieved such a positive response by remaining true to its core values, entertaining consumers with cute and funny videos of babies, not feeling the need to stray into the murky waters of COVID-19.

Therefore, a month on from Super Bowl LV, having had time to analyse responses to the event, it is important to see the importance of the NFL’s future as an advertising platform and as an opportunity for brands to stand out. Whilst this year’s championship game has been an advertising minefield, it is crucial for brands not to be scared off by an emotionally charged audience, but to use their particularly pronounced reactions to learn how best to reach consumers by striking the right tone and entertaining viewers appropriately.

By Sam Hughes-Penney

Sector Head: Gregor MacDonald