Marketing’s big players suit up for Super Bowl

Avocado TV ad still "Well at least they don't know about subliminal advertising..." - Avocados TV ad

On Sunday night, when the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots meet in gridiron’s showpiece season-ender, it will be as much the pinnacle of the year for marketing folks as it is for football fans.

The get-me-in ticket price on StubHub is a minimum of $2,250 – this for an extravaganza featuring the four-time champions Patriots and the untitled Falcons, as well as the cast of Hamilton performing ‘God Bless America’ and, of course, the Pepsi Zero Sugar Halftime Show with Lady Gaga.

While only 72,000 people will actually be inside the NRG stadium in Houston (Houston? I thought it was in Long Island), more than 100m are expected to watch live.

Yet the game is the culmination of a season that saw the NFL try to tackle its inconsistent TV ratings, prompting concern among some marketers about the sport’s televised future. In a recent piece for The Atlantic, Derek Thompson looks at how younger audiences have been tuning out, in part due to the “atomization” of content.

He writes: “It’s simply easier than ever to watch football now without technically ‘watching football’ – by finding highlights on Twitter and on sports websites. Why spend four hours on the couch when you can get on with your life and catch the most alluring moments in 60 seconds in line at Starbucks?”

But the night of the Super Bowl remains the high point of the advertising calendar, both in terms of cost – Fortune reports that a 30-second spot could fetch over $5m, more than double what it did in 2010 – but also in buzz and prestige. Sections of the TV audience traditionally tune in “just for the ads” and talk about them extensively online before and after the game itself. Often, themes of patriotism and American values are co-opted by an assortment of products from automobiles to pet food, while many ads will try to find a resonant – and socially shareable – sense of humour, such as this spot for Avocados from Mexico.

But even tasty green fruit are subject to the, shall we say, fluidity of the relationship between the US and Mexico; part of a new political sensitivity evident in this year’s ads.

One of the biggest Super Bowl advertisers, Budweiser, has produced a spot that might seem provocative in the current climate, choosing immigration as its subject and telling the story of Anheuser-Busch founder Adolphus Busch’s journey to America.

Obviously, no brand – even one as “American” as Bud – seeks to alienate half its potential audience but, as The Atlantic points out, the response to the spot shows the difficulty of finding “a bipartisan approach to the biggest night of the year”.

In addition to broadcasting the game, Fox will be streaming it free online and inserting local ads based on the viewer’s location. National ad spots will be the same online as for the TV broadcast.

To keep up with developments in this year’s Super Bowl commercials – along with the latest teaser ads – check out the #HashtagBowl blog at Marketing Land. Meanwhile you can get a combination of the latest full commercials and a game preview at CBS Sports.

For its part, CNBC looks at the “most socially engaging” spots, based on “’earned online engagement, made up of online activity, or the digital share of voice compared to other ads; social actions, such as tweets, shares and mentions; and the number of times it has been viewed online.”

It’s worth remembering that as well as their preoccupation with Super Bowl ads, Americans also placed more than $4bn-worth of bets on last year’s game, according to Forbes.

This year, the Patriots are narrow favorites.

For an idea of the future of Super Bowl advertising, it’s maybe worth looking back to last year and The Drum’s prediction that the next 50 years for one of the “last safe bets in traditional advertising” is going to be “less about reach and more about ROI”.

And if you need some clues as to the other kind of players you might be seeing in future games, check out Sports Illustrated’s story on college football’s national all-name team ahead of this year’s “signing day”.

Finally, to get you in the mood for the game itself, here’s an absolute must-watch – the latest Bad Lip Reading of the NFL:

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