Typically for advertisers, the Super Bowl is a once in a lifetime opportunity to have that many eyeballs at once and is actually set to see the ads.
Of course, this year is anything but typical.
Advertisers who appear in the game this Sunday must set the tone in a pandemic that has killed over 400,000 people in the United States. Some Super Bowl advertisers will weigh in on the reality of the moment while trying not to be offensive. Many others push forward with light-hearted humor while some take a practical route and show how their technology can help in a home-stay world.
“I can’t remember when there was so much going on in our country and the world,” said Derek Rucker, who teaches advertising strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “You have a pandemic environment, you have a change in presidency, you have social justice movements. That means there are a lot of hot button or trigger issues. You as a brand don’t want to say the wrong thing. It’s a bit more of a challenge this year. ”
A large segment of the Super Bowl’s advertisers have already posted their ads, and many are likely playing them more safely than ever.
“They want to break the clutter … and get people talking,” said Jim Nail, principal analyst, B2C marketing at Forrester. “But in the past there have been many instances where these ads have gone from nervous to downright abusive. This year everyone has been nervous and polarized society and people looking for insults that may or may not be intentional on the stakes are really high. ”
Some of the advertisements relate to the pandemic in an indirect way.
Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade’s ad weighs heavily on reality by naming 2020 “Lemon of a Year” as falling lemons are pelted at the ad’s themes. Anheuser-Busch’s ad is an emotional ode to the practice of drinking a beer, with a voice-over reading: “When we get back, we remember that it’s never just about the beer, it’s about this simple human Truth be told: We need each other. ” . “
A spot from Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s suggests that people might be cooped up, but nature is calling. This ad states, “In these troubled times, we need nature more than ever … These challenges will pass.”
A recent survey by AdColony, a mobile advertising company, found that 81% of respondents wanted fun Super Bowl ads, while 36% wanted “heartwarming” ads and 11% wanted political or social ads.
Several more brands this year are taking this heartwarming path. Toyota will air a 60-second ad titled “Upstream” in the second quarter of Sunday’s game to tell the story of Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long. Indeed, the job posting will make a hopeful note for his first big game ad. The company says it “highlights the emotional journey of job seekers at a time when many people are in economic hardship”.
A number of new advertisers for the Super Bowl, like resale e-commerce company Mercari or online used car company Vroom, will try to show how their technology can help in a year like this.
And humor will certainly be an issue. Doritos from PepsiCo, General Motors, Procter & Gamble’s Tide, and Amazon Alexa all go this route. M & M’s actor Dan Levy for a humorous spot showing what the company calls “relatable”. Wow, I really shouldn’t have done those “scenarios” like “Sorry, I called you Karen” or “Sorry for mansplaining”. Meanwhile, Uber Eats tapped Mike Myers and Dana Carvey for an in-game revival of Wayne’s World to encourage viewers to “celebrate” and support local restaurants.
“Most of us have extremely high levels of anxiety,” said Anjali Bal, a marketing professor at Babson College. “When we’re so scared, it’s kind of like that natural thing to want to break it with some humor. And I think it really depends on who the brand is, it comes in to do it.”
Of course, jokes end up differently when you’re home alone rather than drinking at a party that many consumers are likely to skip this year.
“When we see how people in group use experiences relate to individual use experiences, things are completely different,” she said.
Many brands are planning major digital tricks, regardless of whether they also advertise at the Super Bowl or not. For example, Planter’s, which is not promoting this year’s game, is planning social activations around the game.
“I think those who can make themselves relevant across platforms have the highest probability of success, not just for memorability but also for long-term impact,” said Bal.
You can see all of the Super Bowl ads published so far in CNBC’s Roundup and follow them on our Super Bowl Live Ad Blog on Sunday.