A Politicized Super Bowl Means Opportunities for Brands

The Super Bowl is more than snack stadiums and rating points. On the first Sunday in February, America’s largest television audience does something truly remarkable: Viewers look forward to watching ads.

And yet, this year’s ad slate threatens to spoil the party.

A double-dip of political ads—including two 60-second spots, one each from Michael Bloomberg and President Trump’s campaigns—has marketers and consumers anxious. For partygoers, two minutes of politics threaten an awkward grinding halt on the scale of the Super Bowl blackout.

With the president’s campaign announcing its spot will run “early in the game,” the biggest ad night of the year may fumble on kickoff. However, while some see adversity, there is also opportunity.

Here’s what this year’s politicized Super Bowl ad landscape means for brands and marketers, both those with Big Game spots and those without.

Dealing with an American pain point

Americans largely don’t like politics. In today’s divisive world, who could blame them? A recent Gallup poll showed that 68% are not proud of our country’s political system. And with over 100 million watching, many in group settings, politics will be uncomfortably, unavoidably front and center.

With the right idea, a brand could solve a pain point for the country at large.

Imagine if brands embraced months-long election anxiety as a customer relationship management problem.

Imagine if the moment that a political ad started, your pizza delivery app sent you a push notification for a mobile game you could play with your whole watch party. Or if a beer brand branded both 60-second spots as “National Fridge-Run Moments” through digital ads running before and during the game.

Anything that provides a distraction from the negative emotions of politics—let alone the possibility of a heated discussion in the middle of America’s biggest leisure night—could deliver relief to millions. The possibilities are endless; the opportunity is concrete.

A tactical focus delivered to mass media

Over the past decade, both politics and marketing have swung digital. The shift from newspapers to news feeds is old news by now. Yet, when it counts, there’s no replacement for the big stage.

Marketers should understand that every ad shown on a mass channel must now serve a specific role in a broader strategy. Forget awareness as an objective; there are cheaper ways to get pure reach and more efficient ways to prime behavior. Saving budget for a single ad that runs during a mass culture occasion might be a wiser use of media dollars than running the same ad 10 times during weeknight sitcoms. But only if the thoughtful, multichannel campaign plan calls for this type of treatment.

After the success of Obama’s social-driven 2008 campaign, the fact that two (albeit well-funded) campaigns would make eight-figure investments in mass media’s biggest night suggests that the shared experience provided by broadcast has an essential place in marketing today. The question is does that shared experience fit in your strategy and what you hope to get from it.

Digital ads will remain an important and growing part of the marketing mix. But the best Old Spice banner in the world would’ve gone unclicked without Isaiah Mustafa in the Super Bowl.

Election year burnout is on the horizon 

Finally, as we all look ahead to this year’s planning, it’s essential to realize just what this politicized Super Bowl means.

It seems trite to say that the 2020 election is a big deal, but that repetition is the point. In the social media era, election season has inched longer and longer, exposing more of us to more political messages for a longer time.

National political ads running in the Super Bowl means open season for campaign 2020 across all channels. Ten whole months of it, all the way to Election Day.

Whether it happens in March or October, election year burnout will affect millions of Americans. Ideas that subvert and challenge the tropes of election campaigns could find a natural place in culture as comic relief or even as a vessel for change. Either tack would be a breath of fresh air in the middle of what will likely be an overwhelming, contentious campaign trail.

Imagine if brands embraced monthslong election anxiety as a customer relationship management problem, complete with playful pick-me-ups and community building that define programs like Starbucks Rewards. They could even start with this year’s politicized Super Bowl. If Solo Cup Company wants to send bipartisan red and blue cups across America, there will be a lot of parties that could use them.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 27, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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