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Super Bowl LV matchup: The old marketing playbook vs. the new agile reality

by Aaron Goldman

February 4, 2021

Super Bowl LV is going to be a classic. We knew this with certainty as soon as the Chiefs and Bucs punched their tickets to the Big Game. No matter what the outcome, it will stand out in history because of the clear drama: Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes, old playbook vs. new playbook, the best of the past matched up against the brightest of the future.

Super Bowl LV has the same unavoidable dimension for marketers. Success depends on how you can adapt old playbooks to new realities, taking into account volatile media markets, fraught social tensions, and changed consumer habits. In a sense, it’s past vs. future here, too.

Let’s take a look at what’s the same, what’s different, and when you need to be prepared to call an audible.

Unique creative for a unique moment

The Super Bowl’s core value proposition to marketers has always been visibility and reach: millions of eyeballs on the same ad, at the same time. This has always posed a specific kind of creative challenge, namely, that of finding a message that resonates with millions of people at once.

That challenge has never been more difficult than today. Despite the fact that COVID-19 is a uniquely universal phenomenon that literally affects everybody on the planet, it has impacted different communities in radically different ways and recoveries are proceeding on radically different timelines depending on where and who you are, what industry you work in, and so forth.

There are a lot of ways to get it wrong. Look no further than the early weeks of the pandemic when marketers, as though in unison, fell back on boilerplate creative that created a sea of sameness. Playing it safe may seem appropriate in this fraught moment in our society and politics but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a unique approach and call a different play.

While the costs of a Super Bowl ad have always meant that the stakes are high, marketers must contend with a new social dynamic that raises the stakes for everyone. Some marketers, like Budweiser, have decided that the best message they can send is not through advertising at all, but by donating their time to the Ad Council for vaccine awareness and education. There are many paths to communicating this kind of authenticity, and personally, I’m excited to see how the industry’s best creative minds will tackle it in the big game.

With great brands comes great responsibility

Becoming a Super Bowl advertiser always elevated brands to a higher tier of visibility. That visibility comes with added responsibilities in an era when, in the midst of crisis, consumers trust brands more than the government or media. COVID has shown that brands can be literally and metaphorically essential to the functioning of our economy and social fabric, and even nonessential businesses can be important catalysts for social and political change. We saw this as brands voted with their dollars to take a stand on issues that brands would normally have avoided five years ago.

Consumer habits have changed, but so have their expectations for what brands stand for and how they use their powers to make good on their beliefs. Becoming a Super Bowl advertiser in this moment means you must be prepared to assume that role and all it entails. It’s no longer a flashy stunt to win attention. Brands today are appealing for consumer trust – and you better be ready to take it to the end zone.

Battle of agility

Most Super Bowls sell out several quarters in advance at the time of the upfronts in the spring. This year, a larger-than-ever percentage of Super Bowl inventory remained uncommitted heading into January. Rather than being a sign of soft demand, this is more a manifestation of how marketers have embraced agility and optionality across all their investments.

The Super Bowl is still premium; always has been, always will be. And it will always sell out, as it did this year. But the rate at which the commitments fill up may have changed forever. No doubt, there will be some opportunities this year due to the latent commitments, particularly in overtime and in local markets. But in this year, as in years past, the Super Bowl will fill up with lots of premium ads.

This is a lesson for marketers as we approach the still uncertain 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The Olympics, like the Super Bowl, will always be premium and worthy of investment. Thus, the networks can still command a premium CPM. But they may be waiting longer to sell out. This dynamic creates a new balancing act for marketers, one which they and networks are still figuring out. I expect that this is one of the clearest long-term effects of what COVID has brought to the media markets: a closer game heading into the fourth quarter.

Don’t forget the post-game show

A standard feature of every marketer’s old playbook (at least for the last ten years) is to build a narrative before the game for a big conclusion or big reveal during the game. Just as standard and just as important has been the practice of syncing ads on other channels to capitalize on the attention garnered from the Super Bowl ad itself. The Super Bowl is today as it has been for many years, a multi-screen experience, and smart marketers know that the best way to get the most of a $5+ million investment is to fully embrace an omnichannel strategy.

This year is different. Consumers are spending more time in front of more screens than ever before, and there’s no office to return to the Monday after the big game. Marketer’s new playbook this year must account not only for the pre-game and in-game activity, but also the post-game. How can you build on your narrative and keep your audience engaged in the days and weeks that follow? What are the micro-calls-to-action you can string together towards a bigger conversion that perhaps may only be possible post-pandemic?

A new era

Across all of these venues, many if not the majority of marketer’s best practices still apply. But, like Tom Brady versus Patrick Mahomes, you must contend with a new breed of challenges and be willing to rewrite your old playbooks to seize the opportunity. Unlike Super Bowl LV, the winner isn’t one or the other –old or the new –but those marketers who are able to navigate nimbly across the field.

Tags

Super Bowl
Advertising & Media
COVID-19
Sport
Olympics
CPM
TV advertising