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This is not the year for noise: Super Bowl messaging changes in a pandemic

One of the most coveted patches on a media buyer’s vest is placing an ad to air during the Super Bowl.

For decades, these television spots have drawn unmatched ratings and become fodder for more discussion of brand messaging in the public forum than any other planned media event. Because of the Super Bowl, many of us can identify the brands associated with the talking baby, the Clydesdale horses, the catchphrase “Dilly Dilly!” and people singing on a sunny hillside (without even needing to see the logo).

As brand stewards, those of us in the advertising industry salivate over each commercial break rather than anything happening in the game. We geek out for weeks before and after, talking about which brands did what. I hope this year is no different in that way. However, considering all that 2020 brought, many advertisers are understandably hesitant about placing their brand under scrutiny this year. Some major national advertisers are breaking decades-long traditions and choosing to sit out this Super Bowl, while others are taking a much more subdued tone in their ad content. At the local level, we have many clients asking if the potential gains available with this year’s Super Bowl spots are worth the potential risk.

There is the obvious cost to consider – ranging from $10,000+ for a spot to air in one small market to $5.5 million to air nationally. Added to that is this year’s cost to a brand’s reputation if the wrong message is delivered. Carefully consider if your brand’s Super Bowl spot could be construed as bringing more concern and divisiveness to the world. Messages that make us think about being kinder to each other or can convey useful information to help us get through the pandemic may see greater resonance this year.

My guidance on purchasing a Super Bowl ad is the same as I would give for any media placement – consider whether the statement you want to make will reach your audience effectively in the context of the placement. The tone of your message matters. This past year – one riddled with social unrest and public health crises – has left us raw. If you are at all unsure about how your spot might resonate with the American audience on Feb. 7, it is best to take a seat on the sidelines.

My final bit of advice should be familiar to any lifelong fan of a team that’s stuck watching others compete for the ultimate glory — there’s always next year.

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