The situation is tricky right now for Super Bowl advertisers. Much like the rest of the world, they are hoping that we will see something of a return to pre-pandemic normalcy in time for the big event, and that things can proceed more or less as they have in the past – that is, a Super Bowl feeding frenzy for broadcaster and marketer alike. If this gamble should turn out to be wrong though, it could make a bad situation worse for companies caught up in that mistake.
Last year, When Fox Corporation broadcasted Super Bowl LIV last year, they raked in around $600 million in ad spend, with $435 million of that coming from the actual game and the rest from pre- and post-game coverage, and were sold out of all of their inventory for the event almost four months before it was set to begin. The economy was booming, it was a fresh new decade, and it seemed at the time that the hits were just going to keep on coming. Of course, this year the situation is very different.
It is down to CBS, this year’s Super Bowl broadcaster, to navigate these choppy waters successfully. In December, individuals familiar with the situation stated that it was already expected by network executives that they would not see the same early sell-out of their inventory that Fox did before them. In ordinary circumstances, Super Bowl commitments would have begun last summer to allow ad agencies time to make all of the involved and costly preparations that go into creating a Super Bowl ad. However, production logistics were substantially more complicated with the coronavirus pandemic going on, possibly kicking familiar favorites out of the game these year – no pun intended!
Earlier this week on Monday morning, major companies like Budweiser announced that for the first time in 37 years it will not be airing an annual Super Bowl commercial this year. They have decided to reallocate their usual Super Bowl media investment towards raising awareness about the COVID-19 vaccine while in partnership with Ad Council. Other brands stepping in to support COVID awareness and are forfeiting their Super Bowl spot are Coke, Hyundai, and Pepsi. Companies feel it this is an extreme opportunity for them to do their part in facing the pandemic head on in efforts to get their beloved consumers, and the nation as a whole, back to a normal reality.
So cheers to Budweiser! And others that followed….
Another major difference in this year’s Super Bowl advertising landscape is that there is a good chance that the majority of Super Bowl parties, a staple of American social life, will be cancelled this year or held remotely. The ordinary kind of advertisements, made to be enjoyed in a raucous celebration or sports bar setting, will have a different impact in a quiet home environment with potentially only one family present, and this shift in atmosphere has caused a lot of creatives to rethink their traditional messaging. On top of this, ongoing societal hardships are making it hard to nail down messaging for American consumers, many of whom have lost their jobs and are still in the throes of an incredibly contentious political season, resulting in a more polarized and sensitive consumer base than at the time of Super Bowl LIV. Even the most seemingly unassuming creative decisions might spark this whirlwind of negative emotions, with substantial backlash to the unintentionally offending party.
One thing we can be relatively sure of is that there will be a Super Bowl this year, at least. Additionally, PepsiCo has committed itself to sponsoring the halftime show. However, for many typical Super Bowl advertisers, the level of commitment is as of yet unknown. Another shift in dynamic this year is that advertisers are seeking assurances that they will not be held to their commitments in the event of a total cancellation, and CBS has given these assurances, at least verbally. It has been a chaotic football season with delays, substitutions, roster changes, team displacement, and more, and CBS jointly with the NFL has worked to put contingency plans in place for any sudden disruption of the big event.
Right now, CBS seems to be moving their Super Bowl inventory relatively comfortably, all things considered, having already sold off all of the game’s prime advertising real estate. One thing that might be keeping advertisers from buying out the remaining stock is the hefty price tag associated with the time, with an ad in a digital stream going for $300,000 and a 30-second spot costing a whopping $5.5 million, around double the cost of a similar slot ten years ago, though approximately the same cost as last year’s inventory. Additionally, CBS is requiring that all advertisers airing commercials in the main telecast also pay $200,000 on top to have their spots appear in online streams as well. Still, with only around 20% of their inventory left as of last December, it seems likely that CBS will fill all of the available slots. Particularly noteworthy is that while CBS has not enjoyed the same success as Fox in 2020, they are on track to beat their own performance from their last Super Bowl which they broadcast in 2019. It seems marketers are confident that the game will proceed as planned on February 7th, and if not that they will still get their money’s worth during a make-up game, which supposedly would take place on February 28th if necessary, according to Ad Age.
Whatever the final makeup of companies and eventual revenue ends up being, it is in the best interest of all marketers that Super Bowl LV go off without a hitch. A fun, bold advertising event where brands nail their spots and see huge success could be just the thing 2021 needs to shake off last year’s stupor, opening the door for this year to be a year of opportunity in marketing and media.
If you are interested in advertising, contact us to get started on creating your next campaign.