In 2007, PepsiCo-owned snack brand Doritos may have changed the course of the Super Bowl forever when it introduced its “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, which opened up game day advertising to ad creators from all over. While the campaign is credited for putting crowdsourced spots on the map, industry observers say it also opened the door to extending advertising’s reach beyond the Big Game itself, leading to all the teaser ads that now have become a regularly scheduled part of Super Bowl programming.
“That, to me, was kind of the watershed event where people thought about a campaign leading up to a Super Bowl ad as opposed to just releasing the ad early,” says Jim Nail, principal analyst on business-to-consumer marketing at Forrester. “There was a whole strategy around building up to the game.”
Since then, however, brands have been rethinking their teaser approach, especially this year as more brands adopt a less-is-more approach as they navigate the peculiar challenges brought by COVID and political strife.
In 2016, on the Monday morning before the Super Bowl, 61 different brands had released 177 unique pre-releases and ads. But at the same point in 2020, only 64 brands had released 24 unique creative pieces — and many of those pre-releases were from PepsiCo for its portfolio, according to data from iSpot. This year the number of brands and the amount of creative work dropped early is down yet again, with only 18 pre-releases from 27 brands in the same period.
Super Bowl advertisers for most of January kept a low profile for fear of appearing tone-deaf as the news cycle was dominated by political unrest amid the Capitol riots and ensuing backlash. “Pretty much Nov. 3 through the inauguration, there was just so much in the news cycle, and just one big shocking story after another, that there really was no room for brands to announce something so frivolous as a Super Bowl ad,” Nail says.
The pandemic also played a role: For categories such as beer, chips and soft drinks, pre-release ads and teasers help put products in people’s minds so they stock up for the game. This year, though, parties are reduced due to COVID, reducing the need for big shopping trips.