How Do Celebrities End Up in Super Bowl Ads?

Each year, a host of celebrities take a break from their artistic endeavors to lend their talents to the likes of toothpaste, candy and potato chip brands, all in the name of football.

It’s the Super Bowl, where stars are paid millions of dollars by advertisers to help them capture the attention of the roughly 100 million people who are presumably just as interested in the ads as they are the game. Nabbing celebrities is a process that involves analytics, negotiations and—perhaps most importantly—a strong backup plan or two in case everything falls through.

Making the deal

Considering the high stakes nature of the game, sometimes Super Bowl advertisers turn to specialist firms to help them find and secure the right talent. For example, a number of brands and their creative shops work with The Marketing Arm, a Dallas-based firm that specializes in celebrity talent, influencers, music licensing and intellectual property.

“We’re brought in at the point where they know they want to use a celebrity,” Brad Sheehan, vp at The Marketing Arm, said. “Our job is to come in and help guide them through the process.”

The Omnicom-owned agency secured a total of 26 celebrities for the past two Super Bowls, which were featured across 13 commercials, including P&G’s 2018 “It’s a Tide Ad” campaign starring Stranger Things’ David Harbour. The campaign proved to be a success, as it garnered the most online mentions during the Big Game that year, according to social media analytics firm Talkwalker.

The Marketing Arm acts as an intermediary between the advertiser and talent, helping the former negotiate terms. After all, the majority of celebrities are paid north of $2 million for Super Bowl spots, Sheehan said.

Brands can also consult the firm’s proprietary tool to gauge a celebrity’s potential effectiveness and impact. Based on consumer feedback around metrics such as appeal, awareness, influence and trust, Sheehan said the tool can help “take the emotion out” of the decision.

What’s the big idea?

Like anything in advertising, Super Bowl ads start with the development of a creative concept. Grey’s chief content officer Jeff Stamp said the very idea of incorporating celebrities is sometimes met with resistance, at least among creatives.

“Creatively, you almost want to fight it,” Stamp said. “All creatives would love to have an idea that is strong enough on its own.” Even so, he admits that egos are often shelved for the sake of the brand.

During the conceptualizing phase, some ideas are concocted with a specific celebrity in mind, while others feature an archetype that gives the brand a bit more wiggle room.

“As far as celebrities go, it very much depends on the script,” Angela Zepeda, Hyundai’s U.S. CMO, said. “Some are written with only one person in mind, while with others there could be more flexibility in who fills the parts.”

Hyundai ran into a bit of a snag last year when a concept for Larry David fell through. While David purportedly liked the idea, it simply didn’t jive with the cranky persona he’s spent so many years crafting. Hyundai then scrapped the idea entirely, with the brand and its agency opting for one of its other finalist concepts (Zepeda said it typically has around four in its arsenal), which starred Jason Bateman as an elevator operator.

Changing with the times

Aside from pure star power, brands are also increasingly considering diversity when deciding who should play the lead role in their game day spot. While the game and its advertisers have historically pandered to a male audience, the NFL revealed in 2017 that roughly 45% of its fan base is female.

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

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