Commercial spots are undoubtedly a large draw for Super Bowl viewers year after year. They are one of our favorite parts of the Super Bowl! In 2021, this affinity remained, but if you tuned in to the Big Game on February 6, you know there was something a little different about the advertising this year. Different not just in the roster of advertisers (or lack thereof), but also very different in the tone. The reason? COVID-19. The impact of the pandemic has drastically affected the way advertisers approached Super Bowl ads this year, and marketers theorize this change could be permanent.
Long-standing Super Bowl advertisers such as Pepsi and Budweiser (the latter of which has run spots during the game for the past 37 years) were absent from the airwaves this year. Instead, opting to reallocate those dollars to increase public awareness about the virus and vaccination process. Even among those companies opting to run commercial spots, there was a shift to humanity-focused, goodwill positioning.
Setting an appropriate tone in the wake of a pandemic was of the utmost importance for advertisers. Many infused heartfelt moments, conscientious light-hearted humor or practicality into their spots versus the colorful and (at times) raucous spots of old. Jim Nail, principal analyst for B2C marketing at Forrester equates this to marketers’ efforts to be sensitive to the consumer, stating, “This year, with everybody’s nerves on edge and polarization of society and people looking for insults that may or may not be intentional, the stakes are really high.”
As the pandemic affects more and more individuals, the marketing world is seeing a move away from the self-promotion focus to a more people-focused approach. This trend is expected to last for years to come due to the magnitude of the COVID-19 virus. Brands are shifting more of their investment strategy into their people, social issues and digital omni-channel marketing that can reach more individuals where they are – at home, enjoying the feeling of togetherness inspired by thoughtful advertising.