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"Big Game Sunday"​ Ads Will Be Dramatically Different This Year

Sit back, kick up your feet, break open the Doritos and tune in as the world’s biggest brands unveil their most bold and exciting commercials for the Big Game on Sunday. But, in a game to cap off a football season (and a year) like no other, ads will also be drastically different than what fans have come to expect.  

Major advertisers like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Budweiser that typically flood commercial breaks with pricey spots are taking a different approach this year. While Anheuser-Busch will still make an appearance with commercials for ‘younger brands’ like Bud Light, Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade, and Michelob Ultra, the classic Budweiser brand and its nostalgic Clydesdales will be noticeably absent – for the first time in 37 years! Budweiser made the announcement weeks ago citing that they would “reallocate that investment to support the Ad Council to increase public awareness and education around the COVID-19 vaccination effort.” And they’re not the only ones. Other classic advertisers like Audi, Hyundai, and Avocados from Mexico are sitting out this year’s game completely.

With a single 30-second in-game national commercial costing upwards of $5.5 million (and over $30,000 for ads in mid-sized, local markets), these industry titans seem to be adjusting to the ‘new normal’ by steering clear of these indulgent ad placements. Yes, the pandemic has had an effect on many bottom lines and profit margins (Coke, for example, has had to resort to layoffs due to the drop in sales from public places like movie theaters and stadiums), but the decision to pull out of advertising in the Big Game seems to be part of a larger social outlook, even though ad inventory is sold out.

Many advertisers fear rubbing audiences the wrong way or being accused of being insensitive. Beyond the mind-blowing price tag of a spot, advertisers are also challenged from a creative perspective. Run an ad that’s fun, upbeat, and light-hearted and folks will say the brand is not taking the pandemic seriously. Go the other route and run a sentimental, heartfelt commercial and risk forever linking your brand to sadness, fear, and loss. No matter how you slice this pizza, marketing and advertising messages must be grounded in solid strategy and creative testing like never before.

On the other hand, brands like Chipotle, DoorDash, and Huggies are using this unprecedented year to make their Super Bowl advertising debut. And we’ll know next week exactly how these ads were received by consumers…they just might strike at the right time. With most Americans watching the game in a much smaller and socially distant group, advertisers may benefit from a significantly more “captive” and engaged audience than usual. In a year that forced us to sideline many events, it’s undeniable that Americans are excited for a big game day and a reason to cheer. To the brands deciding to avoid the expense or the risk of controversy, there’s always next year.

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