Super Bowl: Who’s Advertising, Who’s Not, and Why It Matters

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

Traditionally, Super Bowl ad spots sell out quickly as big brands look to make a splash at one of the most-watched events of the year.  However, this year has brought big changes to consumer behavior, causing brands to adapt their marketing strategy.  

In this episode, Chris Casale and Ryan Smith discuss who’s advertising this year, who’s sitting it out (ad spots are selling for $5.5 million dollars for a 30-second spot), who’s taking advantage of the opportunity, and what you can do when you don’t have the budget.

Podcast Highlights

Chris Casale: [00:02:13] Normally, the Super Bowl is the biggest advertising event of the year, and this year, 30 second ad spots are going for $5.5 million. However, it’s been a slightly different year. How is this year shaping up and why does it look so differently? Who’s in, who’s out? And really, why is it important? Why should you care? 

Before we talk about who’s in and who’s out, I think it’s important to highlight why this year’s Super Bowl is so different right now. It’s early February and they just announced that the Super Bowl spots were sold out. Now, that in and of itself is super relevant because last year spots sold out around Thanksgiving. 

So right around the end of November for an event that occurs at the end of January, early February. Right. So right away, the ad spots took much, much longer to sell. Normally, it’s the largest advertising event of the year, but this year there’s a lot of anxiety around it. 

And a lot of companies are choosing to either play it safe or not play at all. And that’s making some room for newcomers. So a couple of quotes here:

“There is trepidation around Super Bowl advertising this year,” said Bill Oberlander, co-founder and executive creative of ad agency Oberland. “For the Super Bowl, you generally go big or go home. I think brands are going home rather than spending tens of millions of dollars and not getting it right. They’re saying, ‘Let’s wait until this s—storm clears.’”

“Every client conversation I’ve had these days is about who is going to be offended by this ad,” said Rob Schwartz, chief executive officer of ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day. “There’s a lot of discussion about risk mitigation. What that tends to do is that it makes things very bland and not effective or it forces you to look at universal topics like hope or humor.”

Ryan Smith: [00:04:48] I think at $5.5 million dollars for just the spot, and when you think about it, that’s not the production cost. That’s not shooting the commercial. Here’s the other part. It’s a lot tougher to get production going depending on where you’re at. 

If you’re producing commercials in Los Angeles or you’re producing them in New York, let’s just say the two biggest cities in USA, they’ve had lockdown’s throughout the year. They’ve had real issues with that. So there’s also an additional obstacle just to create the commercials. 

So I think when we start adding up all of this, are we going to be insensitive? Maybe we’re trying to be funny, but we’re not. It (may) come across insensitive. We tanked this year in our revenue compared to other years. Can we actually afford that commercial spot and the production that goes into it? We have a crew. We have to make sure that they’re safe. 

So I think when you line all this up, at the end of the day, a lot of these are saying it’s not worth the risk. 

Chris Casale: [00:06:38] But this year, to your point, if you don’t get the sensitivities around this right and you miss, you’re going to do more harm than good. And so the risk mitigation to me is really interesting here, because I think you’re going to have some brands and we’ll talk about this in just a minute here. 

Some brands have pulled out altogether, right? They said, you know what? We’re not going to run a spot or some of them are donating the money to covid relief, which is fantastic. 

Others are probably going to run sort of very generic commercials or maybe maybe commercials that talk about some of the good. We’ve had a lot of companies in recent years talk about social currency or the things that their businesses are doing that sort of benefit humankind. 

Chris Casale: [00:07:20] But the other thing that makes this really interesting, really fascinating to me, is because some of the bigger players are sitting it out over the last 10 or 11 months throughout covid other businesses have soared. 

Right. Maybe they’ve taken advantage of the fact that there is an opportunity in front of them. Maybe they sell a product that’s, you know, super relevant. And so now brands that previously would have been blocked out have opportunities in front of them. And that should be something that everybody’s paying attention to because there’s a lot of opportunity out there, comes down to how you leverage it. 

Ryan Smith: [00:08:17] I think it just goes back to the point that there is a lot of risk. And any time you’re doing marketing and advertising, there’s a risk-reward. But to see these big brands, Hyundai is one that pulled out. What’s interesting is Budweiser now, not some of the offset of Bud brands especially the Bud Lights and some of their new drinks that they’re releasing in 2021, but they’ve pulled out some of those when we get into the commercials that really have been the most memorable. 

Some of those brands we just mentioned that are not participating this year, you’ll hear us mention them of some of the great commercials of the past. And when we get into the past, we talk about some of the greatest commercials which you always find listed. Number one on just about every list you look at goes back in the 1970s with Pittsburgh Steelers great Mean Joe Greene throwing his jersey to the kid. So they have a place, these Super Bowl commercials. 

And for a lot of these companies, I think they’ve been worth it. But this year, you’re just seeing everything get pulled back. So it’s going to be different, as was 2020 and in the early part of 2021. Everything is different, at least for the moment, and the Super Bowl is going to be no different than that. 

Ryan Smith: [00:12:58] This might be the most watched Super Bowl by households. And the reason I say that by households, because that’s what they use, with a lot of sports bars no longer open a lot of people who normally would have parties with large groups will be having less. So I think more people will be in their homes, their individual homes watching the game. 

Therefore, you’re going to have more television sets tuned in. So it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. And if you’re going to have that, maybe that is a good investment because you’ll actually have more eyeballs on your Super Bowl commercial in 2021 than maybe you would have had in any of the previous Super Bowls. 

Chris Casale: [00:13:38] Yeah, that’s a great point. You know, I’ve gone to Super Bowl parties in the past and I’ve missed some of the commercials because you’re having a drink and you’re chatting with other people. But if individuals are home and they’re watching from a home TV set, they’re probably going to have their eyes glued to the TV a little bit longer. So this might be a much better opportunity.  

Historical and Memorable Super Bowl Commercials

Chris Casale: [00:14:29] I think we would be remiss, though, Ryan, if we didn’t talk about some of the historical great Super Bowl ads, because if you’re going to spend several million dollars on a spot and several million dollars on production costs, you want to get it right. And some brands got it right. And they have ads that are, you remember them for years, if not decades after the ads ran. 

The first one for me, the obvious one is Budweiser. Right. They always seem to do a good job. The Clydesdales almost always make an appearance. But I think of the historical ones and maybe it was just the age I was at when I saw them. But the Budweiser frogs, the Budweiser ad and then the was our commercials, which I remember being in school the next day and everybody was talking about it and I felt like Budweiser built on that from years to come. And it did exactly what they were looking for.  

Ryan Smith: [00:16:00] I remember being little and watching the Bud Bowl, and they did Bud Bowl 1 and Bud Bowl 2. And they’ve just been classic with that. So they’ve (Budweiser has) always been a mainstay at the Super Bowl. 

And I think they have some pretty memorable ones, additions outside of the beer world, which is kind of interesting, which takes us back to sort of the titillating with the GoDaddy and Danica Patrick. And it’s interesting with that (go Daddy is) out. And I always wondered how effective in the long run were those GoDaddy ads? 

They ran several campaigns several years in a row, and I think they hit an initial (website) traffic. They got a ton of it. But at the end of the day, how much of that actually turned into new customers as opposed to people wanting to see the ending of the commercial? 

And as from a business perspective, Chris and I talk about this especially early on in our podcast, brand awareness. Obviously it’s important. But at the end of the day, if you’re brand awareness can’t translate into actual dollars and cents, was it really worth it? So if you’re driving a ton of traffic and you can go back and you have the company saying, look at all the impressions we got, look at all this traffic. But at the end of the day, if you could not recover the costs of investing in that Super Bowl, was it really worth it in the long run? And it kind of makes me wonder, with GoDaddy, was this a strategic shift? Because maybe they finally someone came and said it’s not working, we’re not getting the actual conversions, meaning sales from those commercials. 

Chris Casale: [00:17:35] I actually read an article about the first ad GoDaddy ever ran and the reason they decided to run a Super Bowl ad was at the time GoDaddy was one of the largest registrars of domain names on the Internet. And this was still in the somewhat early days of Internet in the 90s. And they did a focus group to determine why aren’t more people using our services? And the feedback they got was nobody’s ever heard of you, nobody’s aware of you. 

And so that’s what gave them the original idea of, oh, well, let’s put an ad in the Super Bowl and make sure people know who we are. But I think to your point, I think the ads might have worked originally because it created that awareness that we talk about in marketing. You want people to know about your brand, but I think there was diminishing returns on it because after a while, the provocative ads aren’t necessarily doing anything to sell the product anymore, which at the end of the day, the goal of marketing is to drive revenue, to drive sales. And so if they’re not doing that, how effective are they? 

Speaking of effective ads, though, to me, one of the most iconic Super Bowl ads of all time was the 1984 Apple Macintosh ad, which if you haven’t seen it, I would encourage you to Google it (see below). But essentially it’s an ad where people are dressed all the same. They’re marching in conformity. They’re watching a TV screen where they’re sort of being brainwashed and this woman in orange pants comes running in and throws a sledgehammer through the screen. And there’s a message that comes up that says On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh and you’ll see why. 

1984 won’t be like 1984, which is a reference to George Orwell’s 1984, which was fantastic. It’s still remembered to this day. It did a great job and drove sales for Macintosh computers so very, very effective, which was great marketing on their part. 

What Can You Do Instead of a Super Bowl Ad?

Ryan Smith: [00:20:41] What can you do with that amount of money and reach a lot of people but not put a commercial out on the Super Bowl? If you’re small and medium sized business (SMB), you have no shot at doing that anyway. And I think the big thing is when you put a commercial on for the Big Game, it’s a pray and spray approach. 

What you could do is spend less money, understand your audience, find a niche, create your video, create a series of videos and put them on YouTube…very targeted ads that you can do. You can create quick TikTok videos. You can create Instagram videos. 

You can take your one 30 second spots and you can segment them out and really cut them down to maybe 5-second clips, 8-second clips, 15-second clips and put them out on all these different social media channels. But the big thing is you can target your advertising with that. And if you really want to have this football theme, Google Analytics will tell you all the people that are coming to your website who have an affinity for sports. 

As an example, you can have a list and create a Google Ad campaign and go after an audience of those types of people. That’s where you can tie-in the big events that’s coming, for this it’s obviously the Super Bowl. Have some sort of football theme in your commercial. And now there’s trademark issues that you can’t mention (Super Bowl), especially with those advertising. So you have to be careful about that. 

And I’m waiting for us to get a little letter saying that we can stop using Super Bowl in the podcast so we might have to change this as the Big Game later down the road. But the big thing is you have to be careful that you can have football and tie it in and target your audience that is interested in your product and service and has an affinity for sports and for football itself. So there’s a lot of ways it can be much more affordable that you can sort of coexist with the big game. 

Chris Casale: [00:23:20] Another option is to remember your 30-second spot in the Super Bowl lasts just that, it’s a few seconds in time and then it’s gone. You can leverage influencer marketing for much less than it would cost you to produce an ad for the Super Bowl. Right. Working with influence in your space. 

And we had some great conversations with Evan Morgenstein and Neal Schaffer regarding experience with influencers. And it doesn’t have to be the Kim Kardashians of the world. Right. That have millions upon millions of followers. 

You can find the micro-influencers or the nano influencers that have a much smaller audience, but a very dedicated one. And so working with them to advocate for your brand and maybe share some of the videos that you’ve created or share some of the content that you’ve created, that can be a much more effective way than the alternative of creating a Super Bowl ad. 

Super Bowl By The Numbers

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