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Super Bowl

Super Bowl Alert: Protests, Steelers Synergy and the Brands on the Sidelines

By Published on .

Eli Harold, Eric Reid, Marquise Goodwin and Louis Murphy of the San Francisco 49ers kneel during the national anthem before a game.
Eli Harold, Eric Reid, Marquise Goodwin and Louis Murphy of the San Francisco 49ers kneel during the national anthem before a game.  Credit: Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Ad Age is bringing you breaking news, analysis and first looks at the high-stakes big-game commercials, sourced from our reporting and elsewhere, in our Super Bowl Alerts newsletter. Sign up right here to get them in your email.

At one point in the NFL season, player protests against racial inequality and President Trump's attacks on them overshadowed the games themselves. That's died down for now, but with football's biggest telecast of the year less than four weeks out, the question of handling any renewed protests is top of mind again.

It looks like NBC, which will broadcast the game from U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Feb. 4, won't shy away: The New York Post is reporting that NBC announcers will cover any player who takes a knee during the national anthem.

And despite Papa John's assertion that the protests were hurting the returns on its NFL sponsorship, Super Bowl advertisers aren't being deterred by the possibility of anthem protests, media buyers tell us.

Speaking of the national anthem, earlier this week it was announced that Pink will be performing. Previous anthem singers have included Whitney Houston, Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey, the Backstreet Boys, Cher, Neil Diamond and (this is going back a ways) original "Charlie's Angel" Cheryl Ladd. Justin Timberlake will return to perform the halftime show again, 14 years after that wardrobe malfunction sort of scandalized a nation.

Steelers synergy

NBC, meanwhile, may be hoping for a little synergy to result as the playoffs unfold: The network is using its high-visibility post-game slot for a new epsiode of "This Is Us," whose Pearson family is crazy about the Steelers. If the Steelers make the Super Bowl, the "This Is Us" promos write themselves. And as Ad Age's Anthony Crupi pointed out, the show's flashbacks provide plenty of opportunities to mine the Steeler's Super Bowl dominance of the late 70s and early 80s.

The beer lineup takes shape

Anheuser-Busch has solidified which brands it will feature in the big game, saying that it will use its annual presence to promote Budweiser, Bud Light, Stella Artois and Michelob Ultra. That means Michelob is getting a third consecutive spot, while Stella is back after a seven-year absence. Last year, A-B brought Busch to the game for the first time (in a droll spot called "Buschhhhh") and introduced Shock Top to the big stage in 2015 ("Unfiltered Talk"). Get the most up-to-date look at all the brands running ads in the game in our sortable, ever-growing Super Bowl Ad Chart.

Sidelined

We are also getting a clearer picture of which advertisers who were in the game last year will sit out. The list now includes Intel, which featured Tom Brady in its ad last year, and H&R Block, who delivered Jon Hamm to talk about the future. 84 Lumber, which used its debut Super Bowl spot last year to sympathetically portray Mexican migrants, won't reprise its appearance. Google, which showed up to face Amazon in a battle of voice-activated assistants, is out. And Wix.com and Honda, which had become regulars in the big game, will also remain on the sidelines.

Mission: Movie marketing

Variety's Brian Steinberg wrote this week that movie studios Paramount and Universal are buying time in the game. It certainly isn't a surprise that Universal, which is owned by NBC parent Comcast, will look to promote its upcoming slate. But It's unlikely that the NFL will want to see Universal advertise the final installment of its "Fifty Shades" franchise with so many kids watching. As for Paramount, contenders include the Natalie Portman sci-fi/horror flick "Annihilation" due in February and the March release of "Sherlock Gnomes." The safest bet, though, is likely the new "Mission: Impossible," even though it's not out til July. A Paramount spokeswoman declined to comment.

This week Adweek identified some trends it expects to see in Super Bowl LII, from more politics to more real-time ads.

Flashback

Whether the Steelers make it to the Super Bowl this year or not, viewers will long remember not only their earlier successes there and Steeler "Mean" Joe Greene's iconic Coke ad from the 1980 game (and then again in 1981). Check out its entry in the Super Bowl Ad Archive for more.

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