3 Brands That Said Nope to Super Bowl LIII – and Won

Blog Super bowl LIII

Because, really, did anyone win this year’s Super Bowl?

Yes, yes, the Patriots won (again), Tom Brady kissed his supermodel wife and scooped up his 6-year-old daughter for a PR-friendly photo op while confetti magically rained down, yet it was all terribly forgettable. The game was boring, the half-time show centered on Adam Levine’s upholstery-inspired tank top and bare nipples. And the ads? Let’s be honest, they were just OK. Since the mid-90s brands have been shelling out millions for 30-second Super Bowl spots, and we the people have come to expect the absolute best from the absolute best in the ad industry. If we aren’t howling with laughter or weeping into our nachos during the commercial breaks, we feel cheated. So, what gives?

The times, they are a-changing

In part, the high price tag for a spot is simply 1. making brands shy away and 2. seriously raising viewer expectations. This year, the 30-second ad spot hit a record high at $5.25 million – approximately $175,000 per second! And that doesn’t factor in production budgets or A-list celebrity talent (Harrison Ford doesn’t come cheap). A lot of brands just can’t justify that spend, narrowing the storytelling pool for viewers… who were mostly left asking, “Sure, it was funny… but was it $5.25 million funny?” (Answer: it was not.)

But, it’s more complicated than that. Early Nielsen data shows that 98.2 million people tuned into CBS for the game. That may sound like a lot, but it actually represents a 5 percent drop from last year’s 103.4 million (a 7 percent drop from 2017) and the lowest viewership in a decade. It’s not surprising with the NFL shrouded in controversy over its handling of Colin Kaepernick – Rihanna even turned down the Super Bowl half time gig in solidarity – as well as the general decline in live TV viewership in today’s Netflix era of ad-free streaming.

So with rising costs and dwindling ratings, along with the explosive success of influencer and social media marketing, opting out of Super Bowl LIII was a smart move for some brands. Of course, that doesn’t mean they opted out of the hype and exposure. Check it out:

1. Kia: The Great Unknowns Scholarship

Featuring the likes of Steven Tyler, Melissa McCarthy and Christopher Walken in recent years’ Super Bowl ads, Kia was right up there with the big spenders. However, this year the South Korean car manufacturer decided to take its $5 mil and invest it in some heartwarming do-goodery instead. Kia used its Super Bowl funds to create The Great Unknowns Scholarship, which puts money in the hands of young people in need of higher education rather than super-rich celebrities (I’m paraphrasing). The campaign launched with this aspirational video and will award 16 students with $5,000 scholarships in its first year.

2. Skittles: The Broadway Musical

Bizarre doesn’t begin to cover it, but Skittles snubbed Super Bowl LIII to focus on its one-time-only New York performance of Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical. And yes, it’s an actual musical theatre event that starred prime time actor Michael C. Hall, featured an original musical score and received a write-up in the New York Times theatre section. Oh, and the whole gist of the story seems to be that advertising sucks. So meta. So extra. So right. I mean, Skittles is a weird brand. Y’all remember the gross Skittle Pox ad, right? And the commercial that was banned for being a little too… pornographic? Yeah. Skittles is weird.

3. Frank’s RedHot: #FranksSweepstakes

Frank’s RedHot didn’t spend a dime on TV spots, but whatever the brand spent on its Twitter strategy was well worth it. Frank’s RedHot ran a contest via Twitter that was on brand and on fire. Building on its “I put that sh*t on everything” campaign and adding in people’s intense love of emojis, the brand asked people to tweet a chili pepper emoji with an emoji that corresponded with the Super Bowl ads in real time for a chance to win some legit prizes. In addition to winning Twitter’s #BrandBowl53 Interception Award, Frank’s Red Hot also earned 3.5 million impressions and increased its followers by 9.5 percent as a result.

Of course, we’re not even a week out from Super Bowl LIII, so it’s too soon to tell which brands will be remembered this year and, more importantly, which will see a positive ROI for their efforts. However, as much as we love boozy lunches and killer pitches, I think it’s safe to say that this year’s lackluster game day is just one more indication that the ad industry is ever evolving. The brands that make the biggest impact will be the ones that continue to try new things.

Need help creating the perfect ad? Want some insight into where your marketing dollars should go? Let’s talk!

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