What it’s like to watch the Super Bowl in Canada
Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on U.S. Super Bowl advertising annually, and with the commercial competition being upped year after year, American football fans now expect nothing less than to be dazzled by slick spots from the world’s most influential brands.
But Canadians? Not so much. With the exception of the Super Bowls played between 2017 and 2019, when a contentious legal fight involving the Supreme Court of Canada temporarily allowed American broadcasts north of the border, Canadian audiences have always had to contend with home-grown commercials during the Big Game.
And to the uninitiated, some of the differences between the two countries’ advertising traditions might seem drastic.
Canadian Super Bowl commercials fall into three primary categories: only-in-Canada ads produced specifically for that market, often by Canadian creative agencies; big-budget American commercials licensed to air internationally; and reruns of brands’ general TV campaigns that have, in some cases, been airing for weeks before the game. (Unlike in the U.S., there’s little precedent of releasing teasers and garnering publicity ahead of the commercials’ in-game debut.)
Super Bowl LV was the first to give Canadian advertisers significant lead time to calibrate their media strategies following the Supreme Court of Canada’s “simultaneous substitution” ruling in late 2019, which meant that unlike last year’s creative hodgepodge, Canadian advertisers this time around had a plethora of country-specific messaging to offer during the game.
As far as Canadian companies go, online wealth management service Wealthsimple created a trio of spots in-house, starring Frankenstein, Medusa and Noah, to illustrate that anyone can do their own taxes, while food delivery app SkipTheDishes cast long-time spokesman and “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm for a second year in a row in a “bressert” ad from Toronto-based Arrivals + Departures.
Global brands brought their A-games with exclusive-to-Canada ads this year, too. Bubly tapped Canadian crooner Michael Bublé to hawk its sparkling water in a spot reminiscent of its 2019 U.S. Super Bowl creative, and Heinz offered a masterful commercial from Rethink Canada that anonymously asked people around the world to draw ketchup—surprise, surprise, they all drew classic bottles of “57.”
And while it’s not unheard of for American advertisers to shell out more than $10 million to air multiple sequential spots, like ViacomCBS’s Paramount+ did yesterday, some Canadian brands take things one step further, opting to run the same ad multiple times throughout the game. Wealthsimple, SkipTheDishes and Bubly all went this route during the Buccaneers-Chiefs game, just to name a few.
That repetitive strategy won’t break the bank in Canada, though, where 30 seconds of Super Bowl airtime costs as little as $153,000—roughly 1/35th of the current U.S. price of $5.6 million.
That relatively cheap inventory has allowed some niche organizations that would normally be boxed out of the top-dollar American broadcast to find a foothold during the Canadian one.
This year, for example, private all-boys boarding school St. Andrew’s College bought 30 seconds of airtime to let parents know they’ve been “turning boys into men since 1899,” while Canadian medical brand Voltaren appeared to advertise its range of pain relief gels. Pandemic-related public service announcements from both provincial and federal governments also aired as Canada fights to dampen a new wave of COVID-19.
With that media bargain in mind, a handful of American commercials also graced the Canadian Super Bowl broadcast last night, including Uber Eats’ “Wayne’s World” spot with Cardi B, Toyota’s heartfelt “Upstream” ad starring Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long, and Tide’s comical “Jason Alexander Hoodie” commercial featuring a cameo by the “Seinfeld” co-star himself.
Walmart Canada also got in on this year’s Super Bowl, albeit with an ad that first rolled out last month. Titled “Why We Walmart,” the 30-second spot from Cossette starred a genuine Ontario family who is visibly Muslim—an increasingly prominent demographic in North America that’s seldom if ever shown in America Super Bowl commercials.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Canadian broadcast of the Super Bowl without some commercials getting cut off prematurely when players return to the field thanks to mismatched advertising blocks.