Super Bowl LV already has a marketing winner: Budweiser

And its strategy is purpose.

More than a week before kickoff, many big brands have teased or fully revealed their Super Bowl ads online. But it is Budweiser, which won’t have its own game day spot for the first time since 1983, that has made the best play. 

Thanks to a purpose-focused call to action, Bud’s ad is scoring in media coverage of who’s in and who’s out for Super Bowl LV on February 7. 

What brands are running big game spots is a business story each year, but the angle has been heightened this season because of the pandemic and its economic impact. Coca-Cola, for example, benched itself after cutting 12% of its U.S. workforce in late December, likely reasoning that spending the estimated $5.1 million for a 30-second Super Bowl ad would be flagged by observers. 

This week, Budweiser said it would bow out of the broadcast, but for a different reason: it has invested in a 1:30-second film called Bigger Picture, narrated by actress and activist Rashida Jones, to drive COVID-19 vaccine awareness and education. It is sharing the PSA-like spot online via earned media, digital buys and social media. 

In a statement, Budweiser explains that it made the decision so “that one day soon, we can see our Buds again safely.”

The decision has been covered by media from “Good Morning America” and “Today” on the same morning to the Associated Press, which generated more than 1,000 placements for Bigger Picture.

“It had 3.5 billion impressions in the first 48 hours of being announced,” notes Lisa Rosenberg, partner and president of consumer brands at Allison+Partners, PR AOR for Budweiser in the U.S.

Since last summer, Budweiser and its agency partners had been planning something else for the Super Bowl, before that strategy was shelved last month,” she explains.

“Its brand ethos is to step up and make a difference, and so when we saw the vaccine was in play, that was when we changed direction,” says Rosenberg.

“We didn’t know with this pivot if it was going to take us out of the Super Bowl coverage. The game is an amazing venue, but we felt the dollars would be better spent on frequency as the country goes through vaccine rollout,” she adds. “But our approach was still to treat this as if it is a Super Bowl campaign.” 

PRWeek asked sports marketing and communications experts to pick a winner for this year’s big game, and they praised Budweiser for its activation. 

“They came out early with the announcement and became the first Super Bowl advertiser to seize the CSR angle,” says Rick French, CEO of French/West/Vaughan. “They are going to get more of a lift from the earned media than had they done another year of a funny or heartwarming ad.”

He calls it “a very smart play” for another reason: while news headlines proclaim Budweiser is “sitting out” game day, the brand is not likely to go unmentioned or unseen during the commercial breaks.

That’s because parent Anheuser-Busch InBev will run its first corporate spot during the Super Bowl. As the beverage giant’s CMO, Marcel Marcondes, told The Wall Street Journal this week, “We cannot talk about AB without Budweiser.” He also noted that the ad could even feature the brand’s legendary Clydesdales.

InBev bought six in-game spots for Bud Light, Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade, Michelob Ultra and Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer, which compete in rising beverage categories. 

“Bud will actually ride the coattails of its faster-growing sister brands,” says French. “From a brand standpoint, this is both a brilliant PR move and a smart marketing decision: advertise your growth brands while getting the PR value of acting as a good corporate citizen with Budweiser.” 

“It was a masterstroke by InBev,” agrees Patrick Wixted, SVP of Ketchum Sports & Entertainment, who is a National Football League veteran on the team and agency side. “It is getting credit for using their platform for good with Budweiser, but then also putting their other brands forward in entertaining ways.”

Other brands are planning to keep it light and entertain with Super Bowl-connected campaigns. Historically, media roundups of the best Super Bowl commercials favor light, funny or heartwarming escapism, something audiences could use in 2021.

Tide is taking that cue with the Jason Alexander Hoodie to promote its Tide Hygienic Clean product line. The 60-second spot follows a teenage boy’s hoodie, animated with the face of the “Seinfeld” star, whose expressions change as the hoodie gets dirtier and dirtier. 

This is the third time in four years the Procter & Gamble brand has bought Super Bowl airtime. However, it is the first time Tide has fully released a spot early online.

“This year, our in-game spot fits perfectly on its own, but it also lends itself to a really exciting surround program that will keep consumers engaged before, during and after the big game,” says Alex Perez, North American brand director for Tide. “Being a part of a different news cycle is just one of the many ways we plan to engage different groups of consumers over the next week and beyond.”

Tide partnered with Woven Collaborative and MMK, a tag team of Omnicom Group’s Marina Maher Communications and Ketchum, on comms.

Working with a Harvard University psychology professor, a campaign for Molson Coors and Coors Seltzer aims to change people’s dreams via a film and eight-hour soundscape of refreshing waterfalls and mountains. Both will drop on a Big Game Dream Site next Wednesday, supported by online video and social-media posts.

“People have been reporting some really unpleasant dreams as a consequence of the challenging times,” says Marcelo Pascoa, VP of marketing at Molson Coors. The inside joke is that consumers can dream of a calming Super Bowl Coors ad, since rival InBev has category exclusivity during the Super Bowl.

Alison Brod Marketing + Communications is providing comms support. Molson Coors told PRWeek it has invested 2.5 times the size of the brand’s February 2020 media budget on the effort.

Ketchum is working with Frito-Lay, which next week will debut its Super Bowl commercials for Cheetos and Doritos, featuring NFL legends such as Deion Sanders and Joe Montana preparing to watch the game at home.

“The smart play for many brands is to entertain by making someone laugh or smile and provide a release,” says Wixted. “Or you can inspire and motivate by promoting something that is important to people now.”

Aside from the on-the-field action, there will be other moments to watch during the Super Bowl broadcast. Twenty-two-year-old poet Amanda Gorman, who delivered a moving performance on inauguration day, will recite an original poem during the pregame ceremony.

At least one other brand is focusing on purpose communications during commercial breaks: Chipotle Mexican Grill, which is running its first Super Bowl ad. Called Can a Burrito Change the World?, it focuses on the fast-casual restaurant chain’s commitment to helping the plight of local farmers.

Citing a belief that the “pandemic has shifted consumer behavior towards a community-focused society,” the company is also reaching out to the media about its CSR programs. This includes programs that award scholarships and grants to young farmers and the Farmlink Project, which launched this winter to raise awareness of food waste.

BCW Global and Linhart PR are supporting Chipotle on its Super Bowl outreach.

According to Porter Novelli’s COVID-19 tracking research, pandemic-related messaging should perform well with audiences. It shows that consumers “feel better about brands that are addressing pandemic-specific issues,” says Porter CMO Kate Cusick.

“While we’ve seen many companies step away from their urgent response efforts over the past few months, the health crisis is far from over,” she adds. “Given the times, it’s smart for companies to take a hard look at their behaviors and the signals those actions send to the marketplace.”

This article first appeared on PRWeek US.

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