Feb 13, 2023
Super Bowl Advertising Can’t Be One-Off Spots Anymore
By Kyle O’Brian
Super Bowl ads have long been the biggest spots of the year for brands, the ones that set the tone for their annual performance and beyond. Brands like Coca-Cola, Budweiser and Frito-Lay have made the Big Game their big showcases, with mostly winning results. Memorable spots have ranged from Mean Joe Greene tossing his jersey to a young fan, to a trio of frogs reciting a beer name, to Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd swapping memories.
But brands now see that the Super Bowl isn’t just about one flashy in-game spot that hopefully gets loved by all.
Instead, a successful modern-day Super Bowl campaign must extend beyond the game, grabbing fans before, during and after the broadcast. With 30-second spots for Super Bowl 57 topping out at more than $7 million and an expected TV buy that often must include a larger commitment beyond the in-game spots, brands need to get the most bang for their buck.
“Here’s the truth of the Super Bowl: It’s either the biggest, enormous waste of money ever, or it’s either the best bargain ever,” David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer at BBDO, told Adweek.
Lubars knows Super Bowl ads, having helmed efforts each year for the last two decades, ranging from the still-talked-about spot for EDS, “Herding Cats,” to the Snickers spot with Betty White and the current M&M’s campaign. He sees the Big Game as the last big cultural event where people actually want to see commercials, and if advertisers do it right, they can get in front of millions of eyeballs and make an impact, whether it’s through humor, emotion or intrigue.
It’s a place for brands to stage their big ideas and stand out. Multiple brands this year have built media plans to drive a narrative for fans to follow along with before the game.
Breaking through, Lubars noted, takes skill and strategy, especially as the campaigns go beyond the Super Bowl telecast.
“Now broadcast is one of the many planets that float around in a gaseous, confusing atmosphere,” said Lubars, alluding to the proliferation of social channels and outlets in which Super Bowl campaigns can expand their various reaches.
The Super Bowl effect
Many brands look for ways to smartly extend the Super Bowl halo, and a lot are doing it before the game. Procter & Gamble brands have long been a staple of the Big Game, and Tide has been a prominent player and established a strong formula for using an innovative media plan to get the most out of its Super Bowl buy.
In 2018, P&G and agency Saatchi & Saatchi owned the game and the minds of consumers with their genius series of spots with David Harbour, “It’s a Tide Ad.” The series co-opted the creative of other brands while fooling people with its smart delivery, and the creative still resonates with marketers and consumers. In fall 2019, Tide seeded the idea—with Peyton Manning as the spokesperson—that Sundays were NFL days and Tuesdays would be the new laundry day. It capped the concept with a spot starring Charlie Day about laundry procrastination and the hashtag #laundrylater.
By extending the campaign, the brand maximized the Super Bowl halo well before the game, and P&G did it again this year with its Downy Unstopables fabric freshener. Downy released its Super Bowl teaser two months in advance of the game so people could start guessing which draped celebrity would be promoting the long-lasting scent of Unstopables. The answer turned out to be Danny McBride, who transformed into Downy McBride for the ad.
“You want to be insightful, but you also want to tap into culturally relevant moments,” Jenny Maxwell, P&G’s senior brand director of North America Fabric Care, Fabric Enhancers, told Adweek about finding Super Bowl success.
Maxwell said Tide wanted to create a cultural debate about what the best laundry night would be. With Unstopables, it is creating intrigue around its masked celebrity, utilizing the brand benefit of the scent lasting as long as the 12 weeks the campaign ran leading up to Super Bowl 57.
“As brand-builders, especially here at P&G, we’re looking for the right balance of insights and this culturally relevant moment to tap into,” said Maxwell, adding that the consumer must be entertained and engaged with the spot and product. That involves twists and turns in the action as the campaign progresses, along with fun social interactions to keep people tuned in, as it’s doing with its Downy #SniffItToBelieveIt social campaign.
Creating a campaign that wins the hearts of consumers isn’t easy, but Maxwell loves the interaction between the brand and agency as the creative comes together.
“We keep the bar really high by having fun and making sure that we’re super collaborative, and we partner to bring the best creative to life,” said Maxwell.
Building hype in 2023
A number of brands went further than just releasing a teaser to give Super Bowl ad fans a little preview of what to expect this year.
Mars, which has multiple snack and candy brands, has a large sell-through window leading up to the Super Bowl as people prepare their Big Game feasts, so teasing a spot before the game, as it does with its M&M’s ads, has great value. M&M’s dominated the conversation leading up to the Super Bowl this year by “retiring” its spokescandies as part of a stunt—though by the end of Super Bowl Sunday, the M&M’s mascots were reinstated, with the candy brand announcing that they were “back for good.”
“You want to be top of mind as people are shopping for the game, as much as you want to be top of mind during the game and after the game,” Ari Weiss, chief creative officer at DDB Worldwide, who is working on the current M&M’s campaign, told Adweek.
Meanwhile, Molson Coors is taking full advantage of the fact that AB InBev’s exclusivity on the Super Bowl ended last year, allowing Molson Coors to enter the game again. It gave fans an opportunity to win chunks of $500,000 by betting on the content of the ad and whether the spot will be for Coors Light or Miller Lite. In the end, the ad turned out to be for neither brand: It was a Blue Moon spot.
Elsewhere in the sports betting world, FanDuel had a monthlong campaign building excitement around Rob Gronkowski’s live field goal attempt, which aired as an ad during the game. Gronkowski missed the kick, but FanDuel said it would still give fans a piece of $10 million in bonus bets.
As media outlets have expanded, social has boomed and new platforms keep emerging, the average consumer is pulled in many directions. But the Super Bowl may be the last bastion of traditional media where the world comes together.
“It’s a huge moment not just for football fans, but for bringing community together across all stripes, colors, ages, sexual orientations, geographic locations, to have one communal moment that does not exist very much in any capacity worldwide,” said Mike Valdés-Fauli, chief operating officer of Chemistry and president of its multicultural division, Chemistry Cultura, which counts the NFL as a client.
Valdés-Fauli said that brands and agencies should follow a game playbook that includes more than just spots and dots on TV, adding earned media value, teasers of what’s coming through digital and social channels, and even interviews with the ads’ stars to broaden the campaign’s reach.
As people access the Super Bowl in different ways, either through the stream, on network or via social feeds, and as the hype ramps up ahead of the game, the necessity to view Super Bowl ads as integrated campaigns rather than one-off ad moments becomes clear.
“We’re looking at the brand-building more horizontally, more as a continuity more with a platform mentality, and less with the typical big ads a one-off mindset,” said Luis Miguel Messianu, founder, creative chairman and CEO of Alma, and DDB McDonald’s global chief creative officer. Messianu also sees that the success of a campaign can hinge upon its success on social media following its initial airing in the game, especially as Twitter steers the conversation and TikTok weighs in at the younger end of the spectrum.
“The Super Bowl was viewed as a festival for TV,” said Messianu. “Now it’s almost like the flagship for an integrated effort across media channels.”
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