Super Bowl LIII: Brand Performance


Purpose-led messaging outlasts traditional advertising

By the numbers, more than half a million people took part in the Super Bowl LIII festivities throughout Atlanta, and more than 100 million viewers watched the game on CBS, ESPN Deportes or streamed it on CBS Interactive, NFL digital properties and Verizon mobile.
Beyond the numbers are the performances of brands that surrounded the game. We talked to Peter Honig, senior vice president of consulting in North America to get his reaction and thoughts on brands capitalizing on SBLIII.

The Final Score: 13-3, was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history. How can the game itself impact its sponsors, if at all?

During the regular NFL season, there are some clear correlations between total viewership and the competitive nature of an individual game.  Regardless of the quality of on-field play, the Super Bowl has proven to be largely immune from dramatic swings in viewership and this year’s game was no different (viewership grew and stabilized during the 4th quarter). 
If I were a sponsor or brand involved with the Super Bowl, I would be less concerned about the quality of the game and more interested in how our brand leverages the attention of this captive audience. 
Social media has given brands the opportunity to watch the game and react in real-time with millions of other viewers. While this approach carries some risk, the commentary and interactions provided by brands often becomes the most talked about part of the Super Bowl experience. Add in the fact that millions of people don’t have a rooting interest in the game, there is even greater opportunity for brands to engage or entertain. Two great examples of this came from and Mercedes-Benz, who, despite owning the naming rights to the host stadium, offered a funny critique of the match action.

For a few seconds, the audience thought they were getting another Bud Light "Dilly Dilly" commercial, but to their surprise and delight, they were watching a Bud Light-Game of Thrones/HBO commercial, seamlessly executing an organic cross-promotion. Perhaps research showed that GOT fans were more likely to drink Bud Light, or perhaps Bud Light took advantage of an opportunity to end their incredible Bud Knight campaign in a way that made viewers and fans feel like they were part of something bigger than just a series of commercials.
Is this a sign of things to come for how brands and entertainment can elevate their advertising and connecting with their audience?

While there have been a handful of brand partnerships within the Super Bowl experience - Pepsi and Pizza Hut most recently in 2018, I don’t expect this to become a major trend moving forward.  The challenges are obvious – overall creative direction, partnership authenticity and equitable share of voice among others. 
In the case of HBO and Bud Light, there were a few interesting dynamics that allowed for such a unique pairing to take place.  Bud Light’s “Dilly Dilly” campaign was inspired by the popularity of GoT which has become a cultural phenomenon.  Despite the success of the campaign, beer consumption within the U.S. continues to decline, as has Bud Light’s overall market share (In 2010, beer constituted 48.2% of the alcohol market which dropped to 45.6% in 2017). 
As HBO launched their $20mm+ promotional efforts for the show’s final season, Bud Light saw an opportunity to collaborate and tap into the groundswell of attention from the show’s hardcore audience.  By sacrificing its own beloved character, Bud Light made a strategic decision to become part of a larger promotional effort aimed at inspiring loyalty and affinity amongst its consumer base.  With that said, it’s hard to replicate the conditions for this type of brand partnership to take place. 
My suggestion – enjoy it when it happens, particularly when it surprises and delights.

Hulu partnered with the world record egg to tease an announcement raising awareness on mental health, integrating social, television and social impact for its SBLIII Approach. Thoughts?

I loved this stunt.  From the initial hatching of the idea (see what I did there) to the buildup and anticipation of the reveal, it was a great example of influence being used for social good. 
Disclaimer: I am dumbfounded by the absurdity of an Instagram egg amassing a global following, but using the reveal to bring attention to an important societal issue (rather than to hawk a beauty product or energy drink) was both refreshing and unexpected.  

Hulu also premiered its teaser to The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 during the game. Is it fair to say Hulu went all-in for the Super Bowl – doubling down with traditional television ads?

If you build it, they will come.  That may be true in Iowa, but Hulu decided to fish where the fish are, so they rolled out an aggressive marketing plan highlighted by the promotion of its critically acclaimed original series during the Super Bowl.  
Hulu’s content budget ($2.5b) is dwarfed by rival services including Netflix ($8b) and Amazon ($4.5b).  Despite this challenge, Hulu placed a big bet – and as the only service that provides live, on-demand, original and licensed content, they are banking on the Super Bowl’s diverse audience of cord-cutters, OTT streamers and live-TV enthusiasts to deliver increased engagement and subscriptions for the platform.   

Which brand messages stuck with you the most?

Much like the play on the field, the performance from many brands in the Super Bowl was generally conservative and largely forgettable.
However, there were brands that distinguished themselves, and much of that can be traced to the celebration of our shared human experience. Google reminded us that the three most requested translations were “how are you,” “thank you,” and “I love you.” Microsoft’s adaptive controller celebrated inclusion and empowerment. Budweiser proudly declared that their beer is now brewed with 100 percent wind-powered renewable energy, “for a better tomorrow.”

What will you be watching as brands look to SBLIV?

Purpose led will be critical.
At the end of the day, we can all embrace people and companies that display courage and empathy for their fellow citizens and communities. According to recent research conducted by Catalist, 75 percent of sports fans say that sports and social good should co-exist. With that type of support, look for an increased commitment to purpose-led marketing from brands across the spectrum. 
The brands that stand for something, effectively communicate their purpose and seek to leave the world in a better place will be the ones that capture the imagination of the next generation of fans and consumers.  Said another way – if you’re not standing for something, you’re effectively standing on the sidelines.  
Peter Honig is the senior vice president of consulting and account leadership for CSM LeadDog, a division of CSM Sport & Entertainment in North America. His experience providing direct counsel and support for brand and property partners include Ally, Right Guard, Hawaii Tourism Authority, MetLife, Hertz, Minnesota Vikings and the AVP among others.