Super Bowl LIII: Players Aren’t the Only Ones Gearing up for Game Day

The two teams competing on the gridiron during Super Bowl LIII have been determined, but the combatants in the high-stakes, game-within-the-game (and no I’m not talking about the Puppy Bowl), are just now beginning to emerge.

2019 SB blog post Super Bowl LIII Marketing

Yes, we’re talking about the annual Super Sunday advertising competition, where leading brands as well as precocious upstarts shell out as much as five million for 30 seconds of air time to elevate awareness, pitch products and sell services in an effort to captivate an audience of more than 100 million American consumers.

As has become the norm in recent years, anticipation, often directly fueled by the marketers themselves, is high for the most creative, entertaining and impactful (all highly subjective, of course) advertising content of the year.

After reviewing some of the spots that have debuted, leaked or been teased out, it’s time to highlight a few themes and share a couple of predictions as we bide our time until kick-off or, rather, the first commercial break.

It’s Really Super Bowl Marketing, Not (Just) Advertising:
Given the aforementioned expense of the ad buy, as well as costs for production, talent and more, the actual tab of a Super Bowl spot can easily approach the high seven figures. As a result, savvy marketers realized some time ago the need to “double-down” on their Super Bowl bets by developing integrated marketing campaigns to support the spot and hopefully ensure it stands out in a cluttered, highly-competitive environment.

Stars Continue to Shine:
While some celebs have said they will boycott the game, refuse invitations to perform or will pass on being featured in Super Bowl ads, the fact is that once again this year the stars will be out in force between the whistles. Each of the past two years, more than 20 notable (if not necessarily A-list) celebrities have appeared in Super Bowl advertising. Based on early analysis of the 2019 crop of ads, brands will once again not only leverage these individuals inherent star power from a mass communications standpoint, but also engage with their fan bases, as activating their social channels has become table stakes in any talent agreement related to the Super Bowl.

Big Screen to Second Screen:
While it continues to hold true that sales of big screen TVs surge in advance of the big game, with more than 80% of NFL fans also using a second screen while watching football, marketers are focusing on that platform like never before. From targeted digital advertising to influencer marketing, a strong social strategy focused on generating engagement is critical to a winning game plan, measured in engagement not touchdowns.

On wild card weekend we likely saw a preview of things to come, when a national spot by a leading soft drink company was co-opted to entertaining effect by some an enterprising media outlet. As video editing software has proliferated, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to have a breakout ad on Super Sunday be “repurposed” as a result of something that happens in the game to create another memorable meme that will live on long after the last piece of confetti hits the turf.

The Socio-political Play:
It’s long been held that Super Bowl ads reflect their time, a perspective that was reinforced last year when our country’s leading brewer took on the immigration debate that still roils the nation today. This year, we should expect to see some brand take a similar tack. Whether it’s immigration, #MeToo or even the government shutdown, a provocative ad doesn’t necessarily equate to titillation in 2019.

No Advertising Necessary:
Every year, dozens of brands who are neither sponsors nor advertisers, descend on the Super Bowl host city the week leading up to the game to trot their spokespeople in front of the assembled media with the goal of generating millions of earned impressions. Some go even further, eschewing the advertising rights fees to tap into the cultural zeitgeist related to Super Bowl by executing stunts. Already this year, a leading candy brand is continuing their event-hijacking tradition by creating some serious counter-programming to our modern day gladiator game: a Broadway musical!

Why is this all relevant? Well, because in an environment where reaching a mass audience is more and more challenging, the Super Bowl continues to sit atop the broadcast world from a ratings standpoint.  And, it has become so much more than just a championship sporting event or even cultural moment.

Per Instant Logic, 47 percent of Americans (which translates to almost 50 million viewers on Super Sunday) think watching the commercials is more important than watching the actual game and, on the brand side, almost 25 percent of last year’s Super Bowl advertisers spent at least 10 percent of their annual marketing budget on the big game alone. In the world of brand marketing, the biggest bets happening on Super Bowl Sunday have nothing to do with the final score.