The 55th Super Bowl kicks off next month (February 7) at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
This year’s game will be very different from any previous Super Bowl, with the match set to play out to a much smaller crowd because of restrictions forced by the pandemic.
TV viewers will also be affected. The Super Bowl is usually a great excuse for everyone to congregate in people’s homes to watch the Big Game over a crate of beer and large bowls of chips.
But with Coronavirus restrictions making large scale Super Bowl parties almost impossible, it means that many viewers will be forced to watch in smaller gatherings – or even by themselves.
However, despite Super Bowl LV promising to be a very different, one thing will remain the same for viewers watching at home — the commercial breaks!
Despite the uncertain times we find ourselves in, ad slots costing $5.5M for 30 seconds of CBS airtime are still selling out for brands wanting their seats for the biggest show on Earth.
It means, just like every other year, the race is on for brands to battle it out for viewers’ attention, with some of this year’s biggest budgets being splashed on ads for the Big Game.
To get access to Unruly’s Super Bowl Hub, click here.
A serious Super Bowl?
This year, it will be intriguing to see how brands approach the game amid the uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus.
Will brands look for laughs to counteract the depressing headlines that seemingly bombard us day in, day out, or will they choose to reflect the impact the pandemic is having on people’s daily lives, aiming for a more sombre and relatable tone?
One approach we may see this year, which would be relatively unique in the celebratory backdrop of the Big Game, is brands sympathizing and providing a degree of comfort or reassurance to consumers.
This could prove an effective way to address the myriad of stressors that 2020 (and the start of 2021) has come to embody, without directly taking sides or stances. Humor traditionally has a large role to play in the Super Bowl.
In fact, according to Unruly research, Super Bowl ads are 150% more likely to make people laugh than the average US ad. We can expect several brands to employ that as a welcome alternative and antidote to the stressful 24-hour news cycle. Perhaps even some humor directly related to how lifestyles have changed during the past year, ensuring their message hits close to home.
A politically-charged ad break?
We may also see some brands act provocatively and take strong stances on recent world and domestic events.
We have seen several major brands, especially over the past year, act in increasingly emboldened ways to promote their support of social justice and even political topics through their advertising, fully aware of the potential fallout and backlash.
One of last year’s most effective Big Game ads came from Microsoft. Coming sixth in our lineup of the most effective ads — with 47% of people who watched the ad having an intense emotional reaction to the content — it focused on gender stereotypes in sport, telling the story of the first woman to coach in the Super Bowl.
With everything that’s happening in the US right now, from political tensions and the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden, to the ongoing pandemic and racial inequalities brought to the forefront of society by the Black Lives Matter movement, brands will need to be especially wary of the messages they portray and consider the implications that leaning into any of these topics could have on how their brand is perceived.
Streaming services will take centre stage
One thing for sure is that the streaming services will be out in force. With cinema releases and blockbuster films on hold due to the pandemic, we expect streamers, including Amazon Prime and Netflix (who missed last year’s Super Bowl), to fill in the gaps with trailers for upcoming original content.
New kid on the block, Disney+, will also be out in force. Following on from the success of Star Wars spin-off, “The Mandalorian”, they are tipped to release several shorts of upcoming TV shows set in the Marvel Universe.
With the streaming wars heating up in the US, it will be interesting to see whether any of these companies will offer discounted sign-ups or extended free trials to viewers. Or whether they will choose to focus on showcasing their best original content, hoping it’s appealing enough to entice viewers to sign up.
Could this be the most-watched Super Bowl ever?
The Super Bowl is usually an excuse for big parties. However, with lockdown restrictions in individual states, and with more expected to be on the way once Joe Biden takes office, many of this year’s celebrations will be restricted to much smaller gatherings or individuals watching on their own.
With restrictions in place, this year, we may see more brands extend their campaigns beyond the hero TV spot to places where viewers are connecting with each other, especially in the lead up to the game. Expect activations across social media, video games and messaging and video calling apps.
Pringles at Kellogg’s recently announced their 30 second spot will be supported by a fully integrated campaign including PR, digital and social media.
With more households watching the game independently, and fans not able to attend the game in person, we could also see an unprecedented rise in viewership numbers. Although viewership has declined year on year since 2015, last year saw a surge in numbers resulting in the 10th most watched Super Bowl Game of all time.
Many have put this down to the game being more exciting than in recent years with the Kansas City Chiefs beating the San Francisco 49ers 31-20. The rise in people streaming the game live and on-demand has also accounted for the growth in viewership numbers.
With more people restricted to their homes due to the pandemic, we could also see households tune in who, in previous years, may not have done so due to prior commitments.
Several major players will not return and we’ll see some new names
This year, several big brands which we usually expect to see during the commercial breaks have confirmed they will not be taking part, including SodaStream and Avocados From Mexico.
The pandemic has had a big impact on brands committing to the $5.5M payout, with many unsure whether the game will garner the same amount of attention without a stadium full of fans, as well as concerns around how the rest of the year will play out.
According to the NY Times, in mid-December CBS still had several openings out of dozens of spots. In contrast, Fox, the broadcaster of last year’s game, had sold all of its 77 national advertising slots by Thanksgiving 2019.
With slots easier to get hold of, we can expect to see some new contenders this year, and it will be interesting to see how they approach the Big Game. One of them will be Fiverr, the online marketplace for freelance services, whose CMO has said they are “planning to use the opportunity to introduce the world to their brand in a unique and creative way”.
It’s going to be more interesting than ever to see how this year’s brands approach the Big Game. We’ll be running all the major ads from Super Bowl LV through their paces with our content testing and targeting tool UnrulyEQ to understand how they performed and what emotions they evoked in audiences.
To get access to Unruly’s Super Bowl Hub, click here.