Advertisers want to make Super Bowl commercials fun again this year

February 3, 2022, 8:20 PM UTC

The National Football League is riding a ratings resurgence, some of the most exciting games in recent memory and a new generation of stars into its biggest game of the year. And advertisers are taking notice.

Take Budweiser, which sat out the Super Bowl last year for the first time in nearly four decades, to focus instead on COVID-related philanthropy. Its familiar red, white, and blue label returns to the game this year with an ad featuring one of its famous Clydesdale horses, recovering from a leg injury and charging again across America’s heartland. It’s among the marketers spending millions for airtime on Feb. 13, when the Los Angeles Rams face off on their home field SoFi Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals in the most-watched U.S. TV event of the year.

“We felt like this year was the perfect opportunity to come back and promote this unifying message about American determination and resiliency,” said Daniel Blake, group vice president for marketing at Budweiser. 

NFL viewership is up this year and about 49 million people tuned in for each of the playoff games last Sunday. NBC, which is broadcasting the game, has sold more than 70 ads, with 30-second spots fetching about $6.5 million each. Mark Marshall, president of advertising and partnerships at NBCUniversal, said total viewership for the Super Bowl is expected to exceed 100 million, up from last year’s 14-year low of 96.4 million.

Ratings had been beaten down in recent years as controversies over players kneeling during the national anthem and the treatment of concussions, along with empty stadiums due to COVID-19 restrictions, led some viewers to tune out. But new stars like the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen have helped bring back fans. It remains to be seen whether a racial discrimination lawsuit filed this week by Brian Flores, former coach of the Miami Dolphins, will alter that trajectory. 

Advertisers will be doing their best to help consumers put the past behind them—especially the pandemic. After a 2021 game laden with depressing ads, brands have turned to comedians to do more fun spots on beer, snacks and cars, while emerging categories such as cryptocurrencies and sports betting take their own shot at Super Bowl ad glory. They all have one message in common though, telling people it’s OK to start enjoying life again.

“A lot of the spots are going to be very comedic and you’re going to see heavy hitters never before seen in commercial advertising show up,” said April Tombs, senior agent at United Talent Agency, which represents a number of Hollywood stars.

Teasers have already been released for a Lay’s potato chips ad featuring Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd joking about their roles as pitchmen on set. Rapper Megan Thee Stallion endures questions about odd animal allergies in a spot for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. 

Celebrity duets

Celebrity pairings will include Mila Kunis and Demi Moore in an ad for AT&T Inc.’s internet access, according to market researcher iSpot.tv. Some the world’s top comedic actors will make appearances as well, including Kevin Hart for Sam’s Club; Eugene Levy in a spoof on action movies for Nissan Motor Co.; and Hannah Waddingham, of “Ted Lasso,” in a spot for shopping site Rakuten.

In a bid to get Americans vacationing again, online travel site Booking.com will have a Super Bowl ad this year featuring actor Idris Elba, while rival Expedia.com returns to the big game after more than 10 years with a spot featuring actor Ewan McGregor.

Budweiser’s parent has four minutes of ads in the game, including for trendy party beverages such as Bud Light Seltzer Hard Soda. Its Clydesdale spot was directed by “Nomadland” Oscar winner Chloe Zhao and it features music from blues-rocker Gary Clark Jr.

Sports betting giant DraftKings Inc. will return with a spot. Newer brands, such as cryptocurrency exchanges FTX Trading Ltd. and Crypto.com will make their debuts. FTX is sponsoring an event, Shaq’s Fun House, before the game with basketball great Shaquille O’Neal. Crypto.com has made an even bigger splash in Los Angeles, snagging naming rights to the arena formally known as Staples Center.

The ad lineup this year should be in sharp contrast to 2021, when many of the spots took up a pandemic theme. DoorDash, for example, reminded consumers to help local restaurants. Job-search site Indeed showed folks looking for work and a dour Bruce Springsteen spoke about national unity while trying to sell Jeeps.

“The Super Bowl reflects trends in the country,” said Tim Calkins, marketing professor at Northwestern University. “If you want to see the tonality of the country at a particular point in time, just look at the Super Bowl.”

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