Super Bowl Commercials: To Address or Avoid the Pandemic?


The game, from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., filled to 30 percent of capacity, will showcase Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, the defending champions, against Tom Brady, who is playing in his 10th Super Bowl, this time as a new star of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although Tampa and Kansas City are midsize television markets and N.F.L. ratings have been down this season, some TV executives anticipate that the marquee quarterback matchup could draw 100 million or more viewers. Last year’s game had a television audience of 99.9 million.

Fox, which broadcast the 2020 contest, sold all of its Super Bowl ad space before the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday and generated $448.7 million in game-time ad revenue — a record, according to the research firm Kantar. Sales were slower this year, and CBS did not fill its roughly 70 slots until last week.

The attention generated by Super Bowl advertising extends beyond the game. Twice as many people might see the commercials on social media sites compared with during the broadcast, said Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Brands also hope their ads are distinctive or dramatic enough to generate talk after the final whistle.

“But this echo effect that many brands bank on is not going to be as large this year,” Mr. Berger said. “Less people will be talking at the office on Monday morning, because they’re not going to be in the office.”

These days, for many companies, commercials are just one part of Super Bowl marketing. Verizon’s plan includes sponsorship of gaming sessions on Twitch, a Verizon-branded virtual stadium in the online video game Fortnite, and a livestreamed postgame concert featuring Alicia Keys and Miley Cyrus. The company’s traditional TV commercial “was the easiest of all the things we’re doing,” said Diego Scotti, Verizon’s chief marketing officer.

Matt Manning, the chief executive of the MKTG agency, said the Super Bowl was “probably the pre-eminent meeting event” for the ad industry in a typical year, adding that his colleagues often had trouble booking a hotel room within 20 miles of the stadium. This year, because of the pandemic, he’s not going, he said.

It will also be the first time in 15 years that Jeremy Carey, the managing director of Optimum Sports, will not attend the game. He said his company, the sports marketing division for the ad company Omnicom Media Group, handles as much as 20 percent of Super Bowl advertisers. Even at a distance from the field, he expects to feel tense on Sunday.

“It’s unlike anything else,” Mr. Carey said. “When you look at the top-performing programs out there, nothing even comes close. There are nervous jitters that go along with it — but if you didn’t have that as a Super Bowl marketer, I’d question your humanness.”

John Koblin contributed reporting.



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