Are you ready for some football … commercials? The Big Game kicks off on Sunday (Feb. 7), and while tens of millions will tune in to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Kansas City Chiefs — or, more specifically, to see Tom Brady take on Patrick Mahomes — a significant portion of the audience won’t care at all about the game and will be there purely to see the commercials.
The Super Bowl is the most expensive slate of advertising up for purchase in any given year, and in 2021, brands spent $5.5 million for 30 seconds of screen time during the Big Game. That means the pressure is on those brands to bring their A-Game as well.
A good Super Bowl commercial can go on to become iconic. Almost everyone knows the expression “Where’s the beef?” or “I’m going to Disney World!” even if they’ve never seen the Super Bowl spots that launched them. Apple throwing a sledgehammer at IBM in 1984 is among the more famous images in advertising history, as is the one of Cindy Crawford slowly drinking a Pepsi during the Super Bowl a decade later in 1994.
There is even more pressure for good attention in 2021, as brands are hoping to strike the right balance to delight, amuse and engage consumers who have been sitting at home for nearly a year. Some decisions this year were an obvious easy lay-up in terms of giving the people what they want, like the following spot from Uber Eats, which enlists Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) from Wayne’s World.
But most brands have had to really think about whether the reward is worth the risk.
“In an environment where businesses are scrutinizing every investment, a $5.5 million Super Bowl unit becomes harder to justify,” Jason Kanefsky, chief investment officer at the ad agency Havas Media, told Bloomberg.
And some businesses, it seems, have stepped away. Coke, Pepsi, Budweiser and Hyundai are all riding the bench this year when it comes to advertising during the Big Game. Anheuser-Busch announced that it is foregoing its traditional in-game Super Bowl airtime, and plans to use that money to support COVID-19 vaccine awareness. That limitation only applies to Budweiser — Bud Light, Bud Lemonade and Anheuser-Busch will all run ads during the game. We offer particular props to the Budweiser lemonade commercial, which we think really captures the metaphorical nature of 2020.
Pepsi made a similar move: It didn’t buy a traditional 30-second spot for its signature Pepsi brand soda, but it has purchased six other ads for Mountain Dew and its Frito-Lay products. Coca-Cola Co., Hyundai and Avocados From Mexico, on the other hand, all say they are taking a timeout from in-game advertising this year to do some housekeeping.
“The Coca-Cola Company has made the decision to sit this year out of the Big Game. This difficult choice was made to ensure that we are investing in the right resources during these unprecedented times,” a company spokesperson told MarketWatch by email. “We’ll be toasting to our fellow brands with an ice-cold Coke from the sidelines.”
And where one brand drops out, others have flooded into the field to take their place. There are a lot of first-timers in the Super Bowl advertisement roster this year, flush with funds after a very big 2020 and ready to make a $5.5 million investment in entering the public consciousness.
DoorDash is one of the few brands that has not pre-released its Super Bowl ad, but it nonetheless managed to create a buzz for it through a series of teasers. We don’t know much yet, but we know there will be Muppets — specifically, Cookie Monster and Super Grover. The teasers seem to provide a nod to the pandemic — such as Super Grover ordering paper towels — and a focus on the lives of “local heroes,” such as small businesses and delivery workers.
“The essence of the spot is about optimism — giving something back to our communities in hopes of brightening their days and building a groundswell for our neighborhoods” while also aiding Sesame Workshop, as David Bornoff, head of consumer marketing at DoorDash, told CBS MoneyWatch.
Vroom, an online car marketplace and another first-time Super Bowl advertiser, will use its spot as a “compare and contrast” between the (tortuous) experience of buying a car in person, versus the pleasure of having it delivered to your door.
Chipotle, another first-time Super Bowl advertiser, is opting for the heartwarming and inspiring ad, though instead of featuring the Muppets, it will pose the powerful question: What if a burrito could change the world?
One of the more amusing first-time participants in this year’s annual advertising bonanza is trading app Robinhood. There is nothing funny about the advertisement itself — it’s a fairly straightforward affair, pushing the message that anyone can be an investor. But we imagine Robinhood bought the ads a few months ago in hopes of making its name more well-known to more consumers — totally unaware that by the time kickoff rolled around, they would already be on their way to being a household name, albeit for very unexpected reasons.
And while we’re sure the game will generate no shortage of Monday morning conversations — no matter who strides off the field as the big winner — for the brands spending big bucks to snag some of that airtime, the competition is only just starting to heat up when the ads start hitting the airwaves this weekend. The winner will be the ones that not only generate a lot of conversation – but actually manage to inspire some sales.