Super Bowl Preview: The Why and When of Big Game Advertising
John Krasinski (from left), Rachel Dratch and Chis Evans are part of Hyundai's Boston-themed Super Bowl spot.
:30 spot slots continue to rise in value--and this year's inventory is already sold out
  • LOS ANGELES
  • --

The answers to two questions--why? and when?--underscore the value of advertising on this year’s Super Bowl. The “why?” has been a constant in recent years as we dive more deeply into an era of media fragmentation which has increased the cost of entry for the Big Game, delivering a rare opportunity to reach a mega audience. Last year’s Super Bowl drew nearly 100 million viewers. And the premium for attaining that Nielsen nirvana has been continually rising to this year’s high point of more than $5 million for a :30 time slot, in some cases as much as $5.6 million. Even the pre- and post-game prices of admission are ranging from $2 million to $3 million per :30 time buy.

Meanwhile the new wrinkle is an accelerated “when?” The norm had been for the network broadcasting the Super Bowl to be working up until the days before kickoff to sell off the remainder of its ad inventory. However, back in November, Fox announced that it had sold out all its commercial airtime for Super Bowl LIV set for Miami, Fla., on February 2.

Helping to move up the sold-out timetable was the implementation of NFL and Fox’s plan that called for doing away with one commercial break in each of the Big Game’s four quarters. This year each quarter will have four ad breaks instead of five. This means that there will be fewer first and last break premium slots during the game. This diminished supply has escalated advertiser demand, likely prompting earlier commitments than usual to securing Super Bowl ad time.

Among first-time advertisers lined up for this year’s Super Bowl are Sabra (via agency VaynerMedia), Kelloggs Pop-Tarts (MRY, New York) and Facebook (Wieden+Kennedy, Portland, Ore.). The latter is airing a :60 with cameo appearances by Sylvester Stallone and Chris Rock; the ad champions how Facebook Groups can bring people of different backgrounds together through shared interests and experiences. As for the Pop-Tart :30, that will feature Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

Returning after a lengthy hiatus from the Big Game are New York Life (Anomaly NY) and Porsche (Cramer-Krasselt) which, respectively, had been away from Super Sunday for some 30 and 23 years. The New York Life ad commemorates the company’s 175th anniversary.

Coming back after much briefer absences are Coca-Cola and Squarespace which both sat out in 2019, Heinz (Wieden+Kennedy) which last appeared in 2016, SodaStream (Goodby Silverstein & Partners), a 2014 Big Game alum, and Snickers candy bars which had been away for a couple of years. Snickers is expected to tap into its long-running successful “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign premise out of BBDO New York. Bryan Buckley of Hungry Man directed the Super Bowl spot for SodaStream, which was acquired by PepsiCo in 2018.

Notable returnees
On the flip side in terms of Super Bowl continuity is a field of brands headed by the Anheuser-Busch InBev family which perennially has multiple ads during the game, this time around for the likes of Budweiser, Bud Light, Bud Light Seltzer and Michelob. The A-B InBev lineup of agencies includes: Wieden+Kennedy for Bud Light and Bud Light Seltzer; David Miami and VaynerMedia for Budweiser; and FCB Chicago for Michelob Ultra.

Automakers are also prevalent in the returning advertiser mix. Kia (David&Goliath) is scheduled for its 11th straight year on the Super Bowl. Audi (72andSunny) will also mark its 11th Super Bowl ad appearance. Meanwhile Hyundai (Innocean Worldwide) is slated to run a :60, which will mark the 12th time in the past 13 years that it will be in the football frenzy. Last year Hyundai ran a successful comedy spot featuring Jason Bateman as an elevator operator taking passengers to painful destinations, the exception being a couple let off at a Hyundai dealership. This year Hyundai Sonata will be running a star-studded, Boston-themed spot during the first quarter of the game. Cast includes Boston celebs including Chris Evans, John Krasinski, Saturday Night Live alum Rachel Dratch, and Boston Red Sox legend David Ortiz. Hungry Man’s Buckley directed the :60.

Toyota (Saatchi & Saatchi) is also on hand for its third straight turn on the Big Game, this time with a :60 for its Highlander SUV. “We’re excited to feature the all-new 2020 Highlander in our spot in the Big Game,” said Ed Laukes, group VP, Toyota Marketing, Toyota Motor North America. “The Highlander is currently the best-selling model in the midsize SUV segment, and there’s no better way to kick off the marketing campaign for the fourth generation of this benchmark SUV than during the most-watched television event of the year.”

Toyota has a long history of leveraging the Super Bowl stage to launch landmark products. 2012 and 2015 spots featured Camry while the 2019 Big Game packed a one-two punch of the 2019 RAV4 and the return of the all-new 2020 Supra. In 2018, Toyota utilized the Super Bowl and the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 shortly after to launch the first-ever global marketing campaign, “Start Your Impossible,” highlighting Toyota’s shift to a mobility company. 

Also returning to Super Sunday are: Intuit’s Turbo Tax (Wieden+Kennedy) for the seventh straight year, Avocados From Mexico (Energy BBDO) for the sixth year in a row, Kelloggs’ brand Pringles (Grey) for its third Big Game ad, ADT (McCann) and P&G skincare brand Olay (Badger & Winters) for the second straight year, WeatherTech (Pinnacle Advertising) tallying its seventh consecutive Super Bowl appearance, and P&G skincare brand Olay

Behind the Pringles :30 are Adult Swim series Rick and Morty creators in tandem with Grey, who continue the potato chip “flavor stacking” theme introduced in its first Super Bowl spot in 2018. The spot taps into a popular episode of Rick and Morty, “Pickle Rick,” in which made scientist Rick Sanchez transforms himself into a pickle to avoid going to family therapy. Pringles will debut a Pickle Rick flavor-inspired can of chips around the time of the Super Bowl.
The Olay spot will feature an all-female cast.

And of course the NFL itself is returning to the 2020 Super Bowl but this time having to go a long way to top its effort last year, the uproarious “100-Year Game,” a two-minute spot--directed by Peter Berg for 72andSunny--showing six generations of football legends who wind up battling for a golden football during a black-tie dinner celebrating the league’s centennial season.

Not all the ad fare during the Big Game will be of the escapist variety. The hard reality of politics will also be in the mix as a re-election spot for President Trump is scheduled, as is a commercial from Democratic Party candidate Michael Bloomberg.

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