McDonough School of Business
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Office Hours: Prashant Malaviya on Super Bowl LV Advertising

Television’s most watched event is going to look a lot different this year. The Super Bowl has always served as an anchor for large parties, fanfare, and catchy (and pricey) halftime commercials. Prashant Malaviya, professor of marketing and senior associate dean of MBA Programs, highlights the potential effects of the coronavirus pandemic on this year’s Super Bowl advertisements.

How will Super Bowl advertising be affected by the pandemic?

Super Bowl advertising in 2021 will be quite different from past years. We will see a number of new brands advertise for the first time — many regulars will take a pause, at least for a year, and brands will adjust their messages to better align with the current social and global context. Although there was some possibility that ad inventory may not be used up, in the end that does not seem to have happened and rates for 30-second spots this year are only slightly down on average ($5.5M this year versus $5.6M last year).

How will ad messaging/themes be affected this year?

Super Bowl advertising typically tries to do three things:  (1) entertain us and make us laugh; (2) make us happy and show love and gratitude; and (3) inspire us and make us dream about a better future. While these general themes will still be evident, their focus will change in important ways. Instead of showing love for cute puppies, there will be more expression of gratitude toward people, especially all those who have toiled hard to keep us healthy, safe, and nourished. We should see more focus on the post-pandemic future and what that might look like, along with reminders of what we should do now so that we as a society realize the more happy future. 

What industries would make the most sense to have an ad run during this year’s Super Bowl?

Many large corporations have decided not to run Super Bowl ads this year for a variety of reasons. For some, it is an economic decision and for others it is an opportunity to draw attention elsewhere — similar to vaccine awareness for Budweiser. There are other industries that have a positive association with the pandemic and the economy, such as pharmaceuticals, e-commerce companies, and those who have strong programs supporting frontline workers, in addition to the usual consumer goods brands. We might also see an uptick in public service announcements regarding pandemic-related behaviors.

How will consumers be affected by Super Bowl ads this year?

This year will be an interesting year for viewership. Unlike previous years, many people (hopefully) will not be gathering in large groups to watch the big game on one television — instead people might be watching from all kinds of devices and digital channels, while being digitally connected with their family and friends during the game. It is unclear how this would impact the conversations that are generated around the advertising, both on the day of as well as on subsequent days. It may well be that our more quiet cousins and friends will have a chance to chat their perspective on the advertising (and the game), and not be drowned out by the more vocal amongst us. It could also be that the buzz surrounding Super Bowl advertising migrates quite significantly to online and social media.