MKTG Insights: Super Bowl For More Than Just Sponsors
For NFL Sponsors, the Super Bowl must feel like the once exclusive club that just opened its doors to the general public.
While marquee global events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup help protect corporate sponsors from ambush by requiring broadcasters to offer official sponsors first right of refusal for advertising time during programming, the NFL does not apply sponsor exclusivity to TV advertising during the Super Bowl broadcast. Air-time is available to any brand willing to shell out the $4.5 million required for a 30-second spot.
That means that NFL sponsors who invest heavily to gain an association with the NFL can potentially see many of their category competitors advertising during Super Bowl broadcasts. Let us be clear: a few commercials by a competitor will not erode a Tier-1, long-time partner's equity in NFL football overnight. According to Turnkey Research, over 60% of NFL fans correctly identify Papa John's as an official NFL sponsor in the Pizza Category. It would require more than Super Bowl advertising by Domino's or Pizza Hut to upend that ownership position. However, for newer partners or for those with smaller investment ranges whose partnership has yet to resonate with consumers, a popular Super Bowl commercial by a competitor may be seen as a meaningful ambush threat.
For the NFL, commercials are core to the Super Bowl experience. #SbAds was trending worldwide during the game. Ads are viewed by millions on social media prior to airing on TV. There is a culture of anticipation with respect to what brands will do with their Super Bowl time slot. Restricting advertising time to only official sponsors would limit one of the things consumers value most about watching Super Bowl commercials: the variety. On its biggest night of the year, the NFL and its broadcasters have prioritized viewer experience and variety over sponsor protection - and it has strategically benefited the Super Bowl brand.
Some sponsors, in recognition of this fact, have chosen to restrict a competitors ability to advertise during the big game. In the beer category, Budweiser has exclusivity for in-game advertising on the national broadcast. However, the majority of official sponsor categories face competitive threats:
Who Did What: MKTG breaks down sponsor/non-sponsor activity in key categories:
Automotive: Despite their official sponsor status, GM did not air a 2015 Super Bowl Commercial. Instead, General Motors opted to bring the brand to life on-site by sending over 600 vehicles to Phoenix, Arizona to transport VIPs during the Super Bowl festivities in addition to presenting MVP Tom Brady with a 2015 Chevy Colorado. Of the 6 auto brands that advertised during the Super Bowl, Fiat's spot received the best rating according to AdMeter:
Telecom: In the lead up to Super Bowl XLIX, Verizon Wireless and the NFL teamed up to release the first-ever Official Super Bowl app. The app was only accessible to fans inside University of Phoenix stadium by leveraging beacon technology placed around the stadium that could determine the location of the individual’s phone. The app provided game day attendees within the stadium to the ability to watch official Super Bowl commercials, instant replays and have access to the venue’s seating and concession maps. However, viewers at home would have only seen non-sponsors T-Mobile and Sprint air commercials during the broadcast. While T-Mobile's spots achieved massive viral success due to appearances by Kim Kardashian, Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler, Sprint actually leveraged their commercial to take aim at their rivals in the fiercely competitive telecom category.
Personal Care: Official sponsor Proctor & Gamble re-aired a past commercial for the "Always" brand in their time slot this year. The documentary-style spot asks the audience to reconsider what it means to do something "like a girl" and remove the negative connotation with the term from their day-to-day vocabulary. The female empowerment anthem is particularly relevant in a year where P&G was called upon to take a stance on the NFL's domestic abuse scandal of the past year due to the female bias of many of their brands. As a campaign extension, P&G brought Karlie Harman, 15, a quarterback and the only girl on her football team in Northern Virginia to the Super Bowl as an Always "Like a Girl" ambassador. Bringing contrast to the category in their Super Bowl marketing was P&G competitor Unilever, who leveraged a "Dad" theme in their Dove+Men Care spot. Similar to Always, Dove sought to break down gender norms by presenting their take on what it means to be a "real man" - being a great Dad.
Soft Drink: Official NFL sponsor Pepsi returned for its third year as the official sponsor the Super Bowl halftime show. Pepsi has integrated shoulder programming around the Halftime Show in order to extend the engagement window and bring the "Coke is Timeless, Pepsi is Timely" positioning to life. This year's #GetHypedForHalftime campaign featuring performer Katy Perry and Blake Shelton helped generate excitement for the event and drive attribution for Pepsi. Pepsi supported the campaign with a :30 second spot leading into halftime. The Cola Wars were on display during the Super Bowl as Coca-Cola used the mass awareness platform of the Super Bowl to launch a major cause marketing initiative focused on the "movement to add more happiness to the Web and offset negativity." Coke followed up with an online spot that taps openly gay NFL player Michael Sam speaking to how he has overcome online negativity throughout his career.
Takeaways for NFL Sponsors: The Super Bowl transcends football. It is a landmark moment in the entertainment calendar with massive crossover appeal. This year's game between the Patriots and Seahawks peaked at 120 million viewers. Further, according to Business Insider, 4 million hours were spent watching game-day ads and teaser videos on YouTube this year. The Super Bowl is one of the few platforms that allow brands to speak to a national audience. It is not simply an amplification platform for official sponsors. It is an amplification platform for any brand that chooses to invest in it in order to reach a critical mass. Despite the prevalence of non-sponsor activity during the Super Bowl, official NFL sponsors are in a unique position to differentiate and breakthrough. Key considerations for NFL sponsors debating whether or not to air a Super Bowl commercial include:
1. Leverage Authentic Integration: Official NFL sponsors have an increased ability to drive an association with the NFL through an on-site presence or even on-field integration. Brands like Microsoft, Gatorade, and Bose who are able to authentically integrate themselves in to the NFL environment not only achieve critical mass but are also able to storytell about their involvement with the property. Sponsors must leverage their rights in order to achieve objectives and communicate what makes them different vs. being consumed by competitive dynamics.
2. Embrace Contrast: While category exclusivity provides the benefit of operating in a competitor-free environment, at times there are benefits to appearing next to your competitors. For brands with a defined, unique value proposition, appearing alongside competitors allows you to communicate contrast. Pepsi and Coke both have a presence during the Super Bowl, allowing consumers to interact with both brands and understands what makes each of them unique.