SMITH BRAIN TRUST – The Super Bowl, with its super-sized audience, can be a pretty super opportunity for advertisers. But in a moment that’s as tumultuous as this one, how can brands make the most of those seconds-long opportunities?
“This year, you can't conduct business as usual. Ads can't afford to be fanciful. The idea shouldn’t be to go full bore on zany campaigns for the sake of cheap laughs,” says Henry C. Boyd III, a clinical professor of marketing at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “Advertisers must find a way to acknowledge all that we've been through as a country under the specter of COVID-19.”
The Feb. 7 game, which will pit the Kansas City Chiefs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is going to be watched much differently, with more fans viewing the game alone or with just the members of their household, avoiding viewing parties and other gatherings that could risk further spreading the dreaded virus.
For Super Bowl LV, advertisers must find themes that speak to viewers in isolation and meet the solemnity of the moment.
“Any savvy marketer reading the tea leaves will know they’ve got to market to the individual. That's going to make it kind of tricky in terms of what's going to really resonate,” says Boyd. “Companies will most likely tap into motifs of hope, unity, and the greater good to come. As Americans, we naturally are inclined to envision the betterment of society for the next generation.”
At this unique moment in our history, audiences will likely be especially moved by ads that demonstrate how major brands are working to make a substantial impact in the lives of ordinary people.
“I am reminded of the sage advice of Theodore Roosevelt - get action. The time for simple platitudes has passed. Instead, bold brands demonstrate real action such as feeding beleaguered first responders, offering free Wi-Fi to needy students, and raising money for local charities. It all boils down to classic cause-related marketing. That some portion of corporate profits is going toward those citizens really in need right now.”
Some iconic brands (like P&G) have tackled hard subjects like combating social injustice,” he says. “In June 2020, P&G ran a two-minute spot that showed how Black families train their children to deal with microaggressions and outright racist behavior every day.”
With 30-second ad spots going for $5.5 million this year – slightly less than last year’s $5.6 million – few brands will even consider buying an ad. Many companies saw their revenues dramatically shrink amid the coronavirus recession, and are watching their bottom line.
Furthermore, while the Super Bowl is often the most-watched TV event in any given year in the United States, it still draws less than a third of American viewers.
Mainstay Coca-Cola is opting out this year, announcing in a statement, "This difficult choice was made to ensure we are investing in the right resources during these unprecedented times."
Brands that stick with the Super Bowl, however, will be advertising during a unique moment, says Boyd.
“If we can find our common ground rooted in humanity once again, then we can spread messages of love and unity. To do so, at this cultural inflection point would be a big win. People will long remember what companies said as we begin to come out of COVID,” he says.
“The art of marketing is learning how to say the right thing at the right time in any commercial. This cardinal rule should be especially followed when broadcasting during the Super Bowl.”
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