COVID and political fatigue inspired ‘lighter and more comedic’ Super Bowl ads

Hayden Cilley

Cronkite News

From an ad featuring a virtual assistant reading the minds of comedian Colin Jost and his wife, actress Scarlett Johansson, to a potato chip ad featuring Seth Rogan marrying a zombie, many advertisers have taken a more lightweight for the spots during Super Bowl Sunday.

Even 72SOLD, a local real estate company that paid for three locally-only spots on NBC’s KPNX Channel 12 affiliate, struck an optimistic tone, offering to pay a homeowner’s mortgage payment for 72 months.

“There’s a ricochet away from the deep, COVID-centric, political ads of a year ago,” said Mark DiMassimo, founder and creative head of marketing firm DiGo.

DiMassimo anticipated the change in tone from advertisers who paid $7 million for 30 seconds of airtime during Super Bowl LVI on NBC.

A year ago, CBS charged $5.5 million for 30 seconds during Super Bowl LV, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies were cutting advertising budgets, production was more difficult, and traditional advertisers of the Super Bowl such as Budweiser, Pepsi and Coca-Cola even chose to sit out completely.

A handful of companies, including Ford, Jeep and Anheuser-Busch, produced spots that addressed the pandemic or the political divide in the country.

While Coke still hasn’t made it to this year’s Super Bowl, other companies have taken on a more traditional, upbeat or humorous tone, sparing no expense.

“Big budget, names and celebrities hit a quarter or a third of the spots this year,” DiMassimo said. “A lot of them get downright clunky and aim to be comedy shows.”

While the more positive vibe and humorous tone of this year’s ads often hit the mark – including the Amazon Alexa ad featuring Jost and Johansson, DiMassimo said a few failed to connect, including spots for Bud Light Hard Seltzer and Taco Bell.

DiGo’s markets itself as a “positive behavior change” agency and works with brands that “help people make better choices and build better habits,” according to the company’s website. DiMassimo therefore believes that the message behind creativity must be conveyed to the public for an advertisement to land with consumers.

“I’m concerned that more and more advertisers are just trying to do show business, trying to make audiences laugh with celebrities,” DiMassimo said. “I think in many cases that comes at the expense of achieving incredibly effective advertising.”

Greg Hague, founder of 72SOLD, also used Super Bowl airtime to promote a giveaway. A limited number of spots are available to local affiliates during the game, and the Hague-based company spent around $500,000 over three slots to promote a sweepstakes, with 72SOLD paying the winner’s mortgage for 72 months.

“It was all about Arizona, ‘Thank you for doing what you did for us,'” Hague said. “And as a thank you, even though we can’t help everyone, we can help just one person.

“So we define this as return marketing (positive behavior) in a charitable sense,” Hague said. “And just to the public to say, ‘Look, we want to give back for making us who we are.'” Effective advertising is key, especially for national spots and the prize money that comes with a Super Bowl commercial. NBC’s rate of $7 million for a 30-second time slot represents a 27% increase over CBS’ 2021 rate for 30 seconds.

But even with the higher price of airtime, companies haven’t held back on production quality and special effects this year.

“I think there’s a throwback effect because it was difficult to do productions in the previous two years because of the pandemic,” DiMassimo said.

Cryptocurrency companies were a notable addition to the Super Bowl 2022 lineup, and a couple caused a stir. Coinbase sent a bouncing QR code to TV screens. Crypto.com featured LeBron James visiting his younger self to tell him he had to make his own decisions. FTX, a bohemian crypto exchange, and eToro, which is an Israeli brokerage firm specializing in cryptocurrency trading, also aired spots during the game.

“Advertisers and crypto-related assets have exploded to the point where they could be among the biggest-budget advertisers,” DiMassimo said.

Crypto has gone big this year with Coinbase spending $13 million on their time slot. The companies saw around 20 million visits to their homepage, according to Surojit Chatterjee, chief product officer at Coinbase.

The Coinbase QR code sent viewers to a promotion for $15 worth of free cryptocurrency and a chance to win around $3 million in prizes for signing up for the company’s app. It was so popular that the app reportedly crashed temporarily.

“They just want to get as many people as possible into this game as possible because it generally creates value for them,” said DiMassimo, who includes crypto companies among the types of brands DiGo wants to work with.

“We are an agency focused on positive behavior change and crypto adoption is an important theme for us,” DiMassimo said.

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