Super Bowl LV's big commercial void makes room for newbies
There will be a sizable void in this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials. Missing will be the much beloved Clydesdales, the classic red and blue cola cans, and vats of guacamole.
The absence of some iconic Big Game imagery comes as Super Bowl advertising stalwarts like Budweiser, Coke, Pepsi, Avocados From Mexico, Hyundai and Audi have decided to sit on the sidelines this year.
It’s certainly a signal that big brands are taking a different approach to marketing in this year’s game—and possibly in 2021—as they navigate the fallout from COVID and make good on their own commitments to inclusivity.
At the same time, the space made by beer, soda and cars is clearing the way for some unexpected brands to make their Super Bowl debuts. This year for the first time we will see diapers and lawn-care products advertised in the game, with Huggies and Scotts Miracle-Gro among at least six newcomers at this point. Others include e-commerce platform Mercari, online car dealer Vroom, Chipotle and online freelance platform Fiverr.
Where some of the Super Bowl stalwarts have seen sales tumble amid the pandemic, many of the brands making their Big Game debuts in 2021 witnessed an increase in consumer demand and awareness. thanks to lockdowns. Similar to the dotcom boom of 2000, which saw the Super Bowl taken over by digital upstarts, the pandemic and political unrest is shaping up to have a similar effect.
The decision for many of the massive marketers that are sitting out the game seems to come down to a combination of greater analysis on which brands in their portfolios will drive the biggest returns for the multimillion-dollar investments, and what their marketing priorities are amid reduced budgets.
“Brands are being careful with their budgets and really analyzing what the ROI of the ad would be. They need to know they have a message that resonates to be worth $5.6 million plus production costs,” says Charles R. Taylor, John A. Murphy professor of marketing at the Villanova School of Business, and senior research fellow at the Center for Marketing and Consumer Insights.
While Budweiser’s and Pepsi’s parent companies will still have a sizable presence in and around the Super Bowl, the decision for the flagship brands to forego in-game ads speaks to how these large marketers are thinking about where to best allocate marketing spend inside their massive portfolios.
Anheuser-Busch InBev will air four minutes of commercials in the Big Game for Bud Light, Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade, Michelob Ultra and Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer, as well as a corporate brand spot that highlights “the company’s commitment to making a positive impact on communities and playing a role in our nation’s economic recovery.”
Instead of running an ad for Bud, the nation’s largest brewer says it will reallocate the spending to support the Ad Council’s coronavirus vaccine public education campaign.
While Bud is responsible for 10 of the top 100 ranked ads in the past 25 years, as judged by USA Today’s Ad Meter, in recent years its Super Bowl spectacles haven’t done much to stem the brand’s sales slide as it has lost market share ground to craft beers, spirits, hard seltzers and its own Michelob Ultra low-calorie brand, which will get two Super Bowl ads this year.
“We are sticking to ROI–it’s all about how we can add better value,” says Marcel Marcondes, the brewer’s U.S. chief marketing officer.
Marcondes also noted that the brewer’s Super Bowl strategy will focus on the brands talking about what they stand for and what matters to consumers right now.
“Most brands want to avoid any brutal backlash for participating in a COVID environment where either being future-forward or too somber could hurt brand sentiment and connection. So they are playing it safe,” says Eric Schiffer, chairman of DigitalMarketing.com and Reputation Management Consultants. “They would rather be seen for their CSR [consumer social responsibility] benefits and are putting focus on helping people during COVID.”
This will be the first time in two decades that both Coke and Pepsi won’t run a stand-alone ad in the Super Bowl.
"This difficult choice was made to ensure we are investing in the right resources during these unprecedented times," Coca-Cola said in a statement when it announced earlier in the month that it would be sitting out the game.
Coke’s decision comes amid corporate layoffs, a major restructuring of the beverage giant’s business and a global creative and media agency review that is expected to last for months.
While Pepsi-Cola won’t air an in-game spot for its flagship soda, it will still invest heavily in its brand sponsorship of the halftime show featuring The Weeknd, and will air a spot for its Mtn Dew brand to plug a new watermelon flavor.
Hyundai’s reasons for skipping the Super Bowl—after running ads in 12 of the last 13 games—was based on marketing priorities, timing of upcoming vehicle launches, and where they felt it was best to allocate marketing resources, a spokesperson said. The last time the company skipped the Big Game was in 2015.
“There really is something to the argument that this is a higher-risk year for advertisers,” Villanova’s Taylor says. “Between economic uncertainties and a polarizing political environment, finessing the right message is going to be harder than usual.”
Much of the focus of this year’s Super Bowl creative is expected to center around humor and light-heartedness. While humor is often at the center of many Super Bowl ads, this year in particular it can be challenging to execute on that tone and there is a greater risk these efforts may fall flat.
Avocados From Mexico, which has a history with laugh-out-loud humor in its six-year run in the Big Game, will use 2021 to “reinvent” the brand and “do some things differently,” Alvaro Luque, the organization’s CEO, said in an interview with The Packer, a produce trade publication.
There are also several other brands that don’t necessarily have the same history with the Super Bowl as Bud and Coke, but have been airing commercials regularly in recent years that have also decided to skip the game this year.
Olay, which has used the game to highlight female-focused messaging in the last two years, hasn’t bought ad time in 2021. Instead, it will promote its messaging around women in STEM during International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Feb. 11. And Microsoft, which also used its Super Bowl messaging in 2019 and 2020 (as well as 2014 and 2015) to highlight the company’s social responsibility, won’t return this year.
“Even for these great companies like Coke and Pepsi, the Super Bowl is so competitive that it’s just not a slam dunk that they are going to connect consumers,” Taylor says. And it seems this year some brands might not think it’s worth the risk.