Super Bowl Ad Preview: The Impact of the Pandemic
M&M's spokescandies could resurface in the Super Bowl ad lineup

What a difference a year makes. Fox sold out ad inventory for the 2020 Big Game back in November 2019. Fast forward to today, well into January, and CBS still has commercial slots open for Super Bowl LV at an asking price of $5.5 million for 30 seconds. Last year’s Super Bowl generated $489 million in ad revenue. Whether that tally will be met this time around remains to be seen.

Of course, the dynamic that has taken its toll on even a marquee event like the Super Bowl--which is slated for February 7 in Tampa Bay, Fla.--is the COVID-19 pandemic. Economic woes have made significant advertisers less bullish on a megabuck Super Sunday investment. Still, the Big Game is most attractive as it figures to again deliver a mega audience, which is increasingly rare in this era of media fragmentation.

There are other pandemic-related concerns as well. Will a comedy ad seem tone deaf with hundreds of thousands of Americans dead from the coronavirus? On the flip side, a somber commercial could come across as depressing during a time when there’s quite a bit to be down about. Finding the right tone from such options as humorous, lighthearted, socially conscious and/or inspirational gives the creative community a challenge arguably unlike any prior year, particularly with sharp divides over public health policy relative to COVID, a contentious presidential election and its conspiracy theory-fraught, insurrection-plagued aftermath serving to further polarize the nation.

Just as there will no stadium packed with fans, the Super Bowl audience across the country will also be different in that big parties and social gatherings tied to the game figure to be few and far between--at least among those who take the warnings of epidemiologists and frontline healthcare professionals seriously. So we will be apart socially while divided ideologically, making for a tough audience to connect with. Or perhaps it’s a golden creative opportunity as the Super Bowl can allow us to put aside differences for a few hours and just enjoy the game, rooting for a team while in the big picture for a change feeling like we’re all on the same team.

Familiar faces 
The Super Bowl LV lineup has some familiar faces including reportedly Anheuser-Busch InBev, a Big Game staple, with multiple spots, likely involving such agencies as Wieden+Kennedy (Bud Light), DAVID and VaynerMedia (Budweiser) and FCB (Michelob).

Also back will be Mars Wrigley’s M&M’s with a :30 from BBDO New York featuring the spokescandy characters that will air during the first commercial break following the kickoff. This will be M&M’S sixth Super Bowl ad in the past decade.

TurboTax via Wieden+Kennedy joins the Super Bowl ad lineup for the eighth straight year as will WeatherTech through Pinnacle Advertising.

Back for its fourth Super Bowl will be Pringles from agency Grey.

Another returnee is Toyota via Saatchi & Saatchi, marking the automaker's fourth consecutive year on the Super Bowl.

PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew and Frito-Lay are also scheduled to be back on Super Sunday--the former out of TBWA\Chiat\Day NY.  Cheetos will be one of three brand campaigns from Frito-Lay on Super Bowl Sunday, making it the broadest presence the company has had to date during the Super Bowl. Doritos’ commercial will feature the return of the highly popular Doritos 3D Crunch, and the Frito-Lay portfolio of products will have a Super Bowl Sunday ad featuring the most NFL players ever in a PepsiCo commercial. A teaser for the Cheetos spot starring Ashton Kutcher (see below) just broke for the Cheetos ad.

Another member of the PepsiCo family, Pepsi itself, will be in on the Big Game with the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show starring The Weeknd. However, Pepsi’s focus will be on that halftime extravaganza sans any spots airing during the telecast. Pepsi will however launch a campaign featuring The Weekend the day prior to help call attention to the singer-songwriter’s halftime performance.

Not returning
While Little Caesars ran its first Super Bowl commercial in 2020, the brand is not returning to the Big Game this year.

Among other brands not coming back this time around are Sabra, SodaStream, P&G’s skincare brand Olay, Avocados From Mexico and Hyundai. The latter’s decision ends a five-year run of Super Bowl ads.


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