On Super Sunday, Expect the Unexpected with Marketing Trends Familiar and New

January 28, 2020

While no ink will be spared discussing the commercials in Super Bowl LIV, there’s still a ton to learn about the strategies behind the ads’ success on brand marketing’s biggest night. Every year—and 2020 is no different—marketers dig deep into their playbooks, while also innovating, to devise what they hope will be a winning game plan.

What’s the cost to get into this year’s game? A 30-second commercial for Super Bowl LIV sold for up to $5.6 million, a new record. Despite this premium, game broadcaster FOX announced in November that all 77 units had been sold. Given the expense, why are brands lining up to pay? Quite simply, it’s still the biggest night on TV, with 98.2 million viewers (an unbelievable 70% of the hyper-fragmented U.S. population) tuning in last year—which, while down 5% year-over-year, was still the most highly rated program in 2019.

So, what can we expect to see during the breaks in the game action? Here are some of the top Super Bowl marketing themes that have emerged for 2020:

Surround Sound

In the era of multi-screen viewing, a successful Super Bowl campaign requires an omni-channel and nimble strategy. Brands are running integrated marketing campaigns with a communications cadence for their ads—including teasers, if not outright reveals—as far as weeks in advance of Super Sunday. “Exclusive” media announcements, influencer-driven amplification, experiential extensions and even user-generated content are all tactics utilized in hopes of capturing as many additional eyeballs as possible. And pre-, post- and in-game integrations that span marketing disciplines and incorporate social listening are also becoming table stakes to capitalize on any unforeseen opportunities.

Advertising with a Purpose

As more and more brands embrace purpose as a key area of focus in their communications efforts, it’s not surprising to see this approach manifest itself in one of, if not THE, largest mass-communication platforms remaining in sports, entertainment and culture. Based upon previews and teasers, we should expect to see Super Bowl campaigns reflecting brand values related to sustainability, community involvement and women’s empowerment, as marketers attempt to further differentiate themselves in the most crowded of environments.

Political Football

As in years past, advertisers won’t be afraid to step from purpose into politics. We’ve already seen news that both POTUS and a deep-pocketed challenger are confirmed to run ads during the game, not to mention brands focusing on social issues such as youth homelessness and police shootings. As a result, there will once again be some Super spots that reflect the issues currently facing society.

Humor Still Sells

Per Ace Metrix, typical TV ads utilize humor approximately 20% of the time—for Super Bowl ads, that number historically hovers just over 50%. While some ads will represent our tumultuous times, early indications are that there will be no shortage of opportunities for us to laugh throughout the night, and in the process reinforce the widespread sentiment that Super Bowl commercials are a form of entertainment.

Star Gazing

Over the past three years more than 20 notable celebrities have appeared in Super Bowl ads, and you can expect this tried-and-true tactic to return, with celebs from all across the spectrum—A-listers to reality TV stars to influencers—helping brands leverage aspiration, relatability or just recognition to resonate and engage with audiences. And, engagement is really becoming more of the driving force in this regard, as most of the talent will amplify their brand partnerships before, during and after the big game to create more touch points with consumers.

As we enjoy another fantastic match up on the gridiron this Sunday, the ads between the action will give plenty to think about, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one following the score on these trends just as closely as the game itself.

Shawn McBride, EVP of Sports for Ketchum, has almost 20 years of experience helping brands leverage their investments in sports, as well as working on behalf of global sports properties.