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Who Will Be the Ad Game Champion of Super Bowl LV?

The first Sunday in February has become as important to the fans of professional football as any holiday is to the masses of believers of religion, love, or memorialization. True believers schedule life activities around the contests between the 32 National Football League (NFL) teams from early September to just after Groundhog Day in the new year. The annual Super Bowl Championship Game has achieved mega status among special events for 55 years, a status afforded very few efforts of showmanship and entertainment. Its popularity has earned it the right to coopt its own day of the year, Super Bowl Sunday.

The 55th Annual Super Bowl will take place in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on February 4, and will feature the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs. The fact that the stadium is named for Raymond James, a diversified financial services firm, is an obvious clue as to the identity of the other game being played on this first Sunday in February: The game of commerce.

The Super Bowl is by far the biggest advertising game of the year, consistently generating more than $400 million in revenue for all those with roles in the game’s performance. Game sponsors willingly pay more than $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime, a staggering $170,000 per second of notice. According to a survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, 72% of adults in America tuned into the big game in 2019. Viewers between the ages of 35 and 44 each spend approximately $123.26 for a super day experience. Another clue as to why the Super Bowl is not just about football: viewers spent 641,000 hours watching Super Bowl 2019 advertisements on YouTube after the big game concluded. For advertisers, the high costs of ad production and airtime makes the decision to play the game difficult. Surveys reveal that for all the effort and investment, only 10% of viewing consumers are motivated to make a purchase due to a game advertisement

Despite the risks, advertisers are once again lining up to play the game in 2021. But like everything else in a COVID-19 world, everything has changed, except for the action on the field. The event, which in the past has attracted as many as 100,000 fans to the stadiums, will see this year’s attendance limited to just 25,000 game-day fans. While the stadium attendance is likely to be a quarter of even the most modest of Super Bowls in the past, this year’s broadcast sponsor CBS is banking on a viewer turnout of about 100 million people. So, what’s the big news for the Super Bowl 55 advertising game?

The most notable news surrounding this year’s event doesn’t evolve around the advertisers who show up to play, but rather around those who are choosing to sit on the sidelines after years of participation. Budweiser, the iconic “King of Beers” and most accomplished Super Bowl advertiser, will be sitting on the bench after 37 years of playing the big game. The brand will reallocate its Super Bowl media investment to support COVID-19 vaccine efforts throughout the coming year. Coca-Cola will not run a commercial during the game for the first time in over 14 years. Pepsi, historically one of the biggest and most reliable advertisers of the annual championship, will focus its efforts on sponsorship of the Super Bowl’s halftime show. “Brands are always typically falling over themselves to get a 30 [second spot] and do something fun on social and try to connect and cut through,” said, Pepsi VP of Marketing Todd Kaplan. “We’re really going to take the experience from 12 minutes into six weeks. I do think though consumers now are really looking for optimism and kind of a bit of escapism, you know, given what everyone’s been through it. I think no matter what the nation is going through … people like music. It’s a little escapism, and just enjoyment in everyday life, showing these everyday moments.”

Automakers, typically among the most prominent of advertisers of the championship game, are electing to be no-shows in 2021. Hyundai, Genesis, Audi, Kia, Porsche, Ford, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen will not be airing national super-ads this year. The industry spent approximately $77 million on media buys last year. So far, only three automakers will be playing this year: General Motors, Toyota, and Jeep. “Auto brands faced the same challenges confronted in other categories, including COVID-related ad production challenges and determining if putting out a big-budget, celebrity-filled Super Bowl spot would fit the mood of a country still hunkered down in the pandemic. That is a special consideration for automakers, which are often pulled into big debates on politics and policy, and whose production facilities are now being used to make personal protective equipment during the COVID fight,” says Ad Age’s E.J. Schultz. The number of veteran ad-game players choosing to be placed on the reserve list this year is providing an opportunity for a bevy of rookies and previous bench warmers.

Scotts Miracle-Gro will run a Super Bowl ad for the first time as will the online auto dealer Vroom. Chipotle Mexican Grill will premiere its first Super Bowl commercial during the second quarter, and diaper maker Huggies plans its first visit to the big game to introduce a new look and feel for the brand. The condiment brand Hellmann’s is teaming with comedian and actress Amy Schumer for its first Super Bowl ad, and job-site marketer Indeed will run its first Super Bowl ad during the game’s first quarter. DoorDash, social video app Triller, Mercari, and Fiverr, an online gig-matching platform for freelancers, are some other previous Super Bowl game non-starters suiting up for Super Bowl LV.

The internet has changed the way Super Bowl commercials are produced and seen. The time when an ad was first revealed to viewers during a break in the football action on the field is past. Brands now release full Super Bowl commercials online in advance. Unlike the game of football, where the winner will be determined after just an hour of play, the ad-game champion may be crowned champion only after many months of replay.

Who is your favored champion of 30 seconds of fame?