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Super Bowl Sunday is nearly upon us, and that means tens of millions of eyes will be glued to their televisions this weekend to watch the Philadelphia Eagles face the Kansas City Chiefs. The big game also means massive viewership for advertisers who pay tens of millions for a commercial.
The advertisements in past Super Bowls have ranged from instant icons to weird and off-putting, and this year will likely be no different. Last year’s spectacle was crypto-themed, but ads this year are expected to take a different approach. In an environment of high inflation and general economic unease amongst Americans, brands may be more careful about how they try to get people to buy their products, according to Jeanine Poggi, editor at the publication Ad Age.
“I think for the most part what you’ll see for this year’s Superbowl commercials, you’re not going to have any brands sort of really heavy-handed leaning into the conversation of any sort of economic weakness,” Poggi said in an interview with Marketplace’s David Brancaccio. “But I do think that because of what’s going on around us, you will see for the most part, brands do lighter commercials, more humorous commercials, light-hearted commercials.”
The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
David Brancaccio: Interesting time, right? Some of these advertisers are going to be putting out these glitzy ads and trying to find the right tone because they themselves, the company, are laying off some of their own people.
Jeanine Poggi: It sure is, you know, the economy, anything that’s going on in the environment around the game always seeps into it in some way, right, whether it impacts the actual tone of the creative or just the conversation around the commercials itself. You have Google [which] obviously made [a] massive layoff announcement, you know, last month, yet they’re in the game with an ad. And then you have Workday, which is its first time airing a Superbowl commercial. They’re sort of the HR program that a lot of companies use to sort of look for their employees on how to do like behind-the-scenes HR management. And they also announced layoffs just a few weeks ago. So you have these brands that are cutting employees, and at the same time wanting Superbowl commercials. And there’s a lot to talk about, you know, in the history of marketing, especially during any sort of economic downturn, about the importance of keeping a brand visible, and the importance of advertising, even during times of a downturn, because that’s important coming out of any sort of economic downturn. But still the conversation, and just the overall PR, strategy and appearance — it’s hard to swallow for some.
Brancaccio: Yeah, did you just imagine the difficulty of the meetings these companies are having, because they themselves may be laying off some of their own people. Yet, the job market in general in America is still very strong. It is the lowest unemployment since May of 1969, going into the Super Bowl. And they have to be mindful of what’s going on within some jobs, but they also must also need to be aware of the general, you know, outlook in the economy,
Poggi: Right, and I think for the most part, what you’ll see for this year’s Superbowl commercials, you’re not going to have any brands sort of really heavy-handed leaning into the conversation of any sort of economic weakness. But I do think that because of what’s going on around us, you will see for the most part, brands do lighter commercials, more humorous commercials, light-hearted commercials. And I think you’ll see some of them, maybe a couple, lead into more of the cost-savings aspects of their brands. But it really won’t be heavy-handed. And that won’t be predominantly what you see in the creative.
Brancaccio: And what’s this about some brands teaming up — you may see several of them in a single ad?
Poggi: Yeah, this is really interesting. And we’re starting to see a couple of these this year where brands are actually like working together around their Superbowl campaigns. So you have Netflix who is working with Michelob Ultra, on one hand, doing an ad promoting one of their golf shows that’s coming out. Michelob Ultra is leaning into sort of a Caddyshack theme with Serena Williams and others for their Super Bowl spot. And then Netflix is also working with General Motors to promote efforts around electric vehicles. So Netflix is a big one sort of working with a couple of others to go out there and buddy up on some Superbowl campaigns. Then you also see a brand like Molson-Coors, which will be utilizing FanDuel to make a bet around its Superbowl ad. So there are a couple of different brands who are looking to partner with others to really go out there. And it’s about driving scale, you know, the more the merrier here, and that the more brands are together, the more promotion they can give on social media, and sort of build that scale, which one you’re paying anywhere from $6.5 million to $7 million for a 30-second commercial, you want as much scale as you can get. So this is a good way to do that.
Brancaccio: It makes more sense now, when you put it that way. Now, your outfit Ad Age tracks with some precision diversity as reflected in the Superbowl ads. We’re talking a couple days before the game itself. We may not know all the ads. Do you have anything you can say at this stage?
Poggi: Yeah, so we do every year — this is our third year doing it — for every brand that’s airing a national spot in the game, we send a list of questions around their diversity/equity efforts. What we are seeing is there does not seem to be as much transparency around efforts specifically around talking about diversity in the Black community. This year, the read is not as strong, but we do see more of an effort around women and Hispanic consumers and bringing in maybe bigger Hispanic audiences to the game this year. And these are just some early reads. You know, another area that I think will be interesting to watch is around representation around disabled people and accessibility. So ads that have captions in it that go beyond the typical closed captioning and being more accessible to that community. For all of this, I think it’s important to say that efforts are still very early and no one is, you know, right there doing like an amazing job. But we are starting to hear some changes as it relates to at least accessibility and Superbowl commercials.
Brancaccio: I wanted to get your expertise on something. Do you remember the dust-up the other day involving M&Ms? They changed the M&M character. Some conservative commentators started in on, “It’s less sexy, this is political correctness.” Yet M&Ms had a whole other strategy ready to rock. Maya Rudolph from SNL is the new front person for all this. Should I take that story at face value, that sort of they became involved in the culture war and had to change their advertising?
Poggi: This was really an interesting one. I think whenever you talk about the Superbowl, you have to go in with the mindset of like, something is a stunt, right? Brands, they’re spending a lot of money as I said, they want the most promotion, the most noise and buzz around their commercial leading up to the game. So I think through that lens, you should always have an air of skepticism going into some of this. You know, it is interesting, because very shortly after they announced that the spokescandies would be discontinued or put on a pause, they did very quickly come out with a statement saying, “Don’t worry, they will still be in use.” So I do think that there was some internal workarounds and changes that did have to be made to this campaign because of sort of the back-and-forth criticism they received. But I think in general, when you look at anything Super Bowl-related of this nature, you do have to anticipate or assume there is some level of a stunt here. You remember Mr. Peanut? When they kill it, when planters killed off Mr. Peanut only for him to be reborn at the Superbowl? So there’s always something up their sleeve.
Brancaccio: Before we go — Blockbuster, remember that? There’s one last Blockbuster store and they’re doing some advertising in the big game?
Poggi: There is. You know, you talk about stunts, and this is the perfect sort of example of that. I fondly remember covering Blockbuster and when Blockbuster actually filed for bankruptcy and all of the drama around it. There is this deep fascination with Blockbuster and you’re right that documentary really captures that there is one Blockbuster that does still exist. And yeah, they’re doing a fun play on a VHS, putting out a commercial on a VHS tape. So I guess if you have a VHS player, you know if any of those still exist in anyone’s homes, you can maybe watch that.
Brancaccio: Oh, I see. So it’s not like this one lone Blockbuster in the Pacific Northwest had the money to buy a full-on broadcast Superbowl ad.
Poggi: No, this is, again, those stunts were like they try to get you, try to make some noise and breakthrough with something where they’re not actually spending the money for a Superbowl ad but they put something like radical and a little crazy out there sort of get that attention around like all of the media buzz around the Super Bowl.
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