Marketing Briefing: ‘No inspiring message’: Humor, charity become main themes ahead of the Big Game



In December, it was unclear how marketers would approach the Super Bowl. Ahead of the Big Game this Sunday, marketers’ plans for their ads are starting to come into focus as humor, celebrities and charity initiatives appear to be the most common themes.


Even as those advertisers attempt to use levity and donation initiatives to bring some normalcy to advertising’s biggest day — without the audience gathering for Super Bowl parties or chatting about the ads in-person at work the next day — it feels the response to in-game advertising will be more muted than usual regardless of what airs. It makes sense that some regular advertisers are sitting out this year’s prominent advertising event.


“The cultural environment around the Super Bowl is one that is turbulent and unstable week by week,” said Andy Nathan, founder and CEO of Fortnight Collective“Going all in on expensive ad inventory and a message played for laughs or other emotions might fall flat in a very turbulent cultural context, especially given that you have to lock your message months if not weeks in advance.”


Navigating the tone and potential tonal issues likely played a role in those advertisers who opted to sit out of the game this year. The potential damage of being “tone deaf” during the Super Bowl is likely not worth the massive audience this year for some marketers.


“Unlike the post-9/11 Super Bowl, there is no inspiring message of shared grief or hope that wouldn’t possibly be a trigger point to an inflamed debate about tone deafness or lack of awareness,” said Ryan Ku, head of strategy and brand innovation at Eleven. “Any attempt to step around the fire engulfing the American zeitgeist using entertainment, spectacle or absurdity would be, again, an easy flash point to an angry debate regarding tone deafness or lack of awareness.”


That’s not to say there won’t be success stories out of the Super Bowl. There are certainly lots of first-time advertisers — like DoorDash, Fiverr, Chipotle, etc. — hoping that will be the case for them. But for some the risk is not worth the reward.


Issues with the cultural context aren’t the only difficulty marketers have been and continue to face when it comes to the Super Bowl. Putting together an ad that merits the hefty $5.5 million price tag generally means a movie-like production. But in the age of Covid-19, doing so is not an option for most brands.


“2020 played havoc on brand planning,” said Mike Groenewald, group creative director at Chemistry. “In summer, when most of the planning for Super Bowl was meant to kick off, we were barely shooting anything, nevermind big Super Bowl-style spots.”


(FWIW, in 2018, I spent a day on Paramount’s backlot shadowing the team behind M&M’s Super Bowl spot as they attempted to tell a bizarre tale of candy cannibalism starring Danny DeVito. The year prior, I went to Louisiana for Budweiser’s Super Bowl shoot. Both productions were massive and lengthy with cast, crew, agency execs and brand execs all on set. That likely won’t be the cast this year with scaled down sets due to Covid-19.)


It’s still unclear how noticeable the production difficulties and necessary staff and cast reductions will be in the finalized ads. Regardless, there’s a sense among advertisers and agency execs that whatever comes on Sunday “this season will end firmly with an asterix affixed to the winner,” noted Nathan. “So too will the USA Today Ad Meter. Just a weird year. But hey, it sure beats incessant Zoom calls and toiling over homemade bread.”



All of Mike’s Responses:


  • Seems like regular advertisers like Bud and Coke decided to sit out. I know they have their own reasons for doing so but why do you think that is? Tone too difficult to manage? COVID precautions too expensive?
    • Budweiser has a great initiative where they’re putting their SB budget into vaccine awareness. They also released a spot online with Rashida Jones that talks about vaccinations. I really applaud Budweiser’s effort as it’s a bold move from a big brand with a 37-year history with the Super Bowl.
    • It would make sense for some of the other usual suspects to sit out the SB as well this year, due to an increased sensitivity around tone deafness during a pandemic. I’m sure we’ll see them back next year and hopefully they’ll be joining Budweiser in putting some of those unspent dollars towards COVID relief efforts.


  • Why do you think we’re seeing more first-time advertisers this year?
    • Companies that have done really well over the last year have seized the opportunity and entered SB for the first time. Indeed, Fiver, DoorDash and Vroom all online companies that grew exponentially over the last year, definitely a game changer for SB going forward.


  • Usually on the ground there’s experiential marketing. Obviously not a thing this year. Where are people moving what they’d spend on that to? Will we see more digital/social ads from brands around SB?
    • I think we’ll see brands putting dollars into digital content for sure. Coors has a cheeky online idea for Super Bowl even though they’re not a Super Bowl sponsor. Their idea involves a dreams expert and embedding Coors into viewers dreams around Super Bowl week. Sounds crazy, sounds a little weird… and I like it.


  • What are other trends/changes you’ve noticed re: SB this year?
    • Usually, you will have seen 90% of the SB ads before the game. This year a lot of brands of holding back and choosing to launch intriguing teasers. I like this play, less spoilers, more interest.  Hellman’s Mayonnaise Angel with Amy Schumer, M&M’s and Bud Light Legends all have me wanting to watch SB even more this year.


  • What’s your overall takeaway from how this year is disrupting SB?
    • 2020 played havoc on brand planning. In summer, when most of the planning for SB was meant to kick off, we we’re barely shooting anything, never mind big SB style spots. Interesting to see how some brands have still managed to get big spots done in time with a large cast of people. From what I’ve seen so far, it doesn’t look like a stellar year of commercials at SB, but fingers crossed all those teasers lead to some magic on the night.


  • Anything else to note?
    • I’m a little disappointed that the brands that are skipping SB this year, didn’t have another newsworthy trick up their sleeve and still play a part in SB, but in a contextually relevant way, like with Budweiser’s initiative. Really feels like a wasted opportunity, an opportunity for brands to do some good in the world.



Original Article found here.