Laura Ziemer
Laura Ziemer is Mintel's Associate Vice President of Marketing Intelligence. Laura uses Mintel's marketing intelligence data to explore custom questions for clients, and provide concrete recommendations that steer them toward highly incremental growth.

Live sports have been one of the few havens for new televised entertainment during the pandemic. Health and safety restrictions stunted production of scripted and live television in 2020, and fans both within the United States and around the world were able to turn to professional and collegiate sports to find that sense of normalcy or perhaps, fill a void. While sports were not immune from the clinches of COVID-19, the National Football League was able to complete a full season with only moderate rescheduling.

Super Bowl viewership numbers have plateaued in recent years to a respectable 100M after a peak of 111M for Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. While 100M is no reach to shy away from, several brands chose to sit out the traditional festivities last year, such as Stella Artois, Burger King and Sketchers to name a few. Advertisers began to question if viewers, in particular, a younger viewer, would watch the game with rapt attention.

This year will prove to be different

While some brands expressed hesitancy to run ads because of the fluctuating uncertainty of the pandemic (Will the game be canceled? What if our humor doesn’t land?), brands who do plan to run will land on a more rapt and attentive audience than ever before. In large part, the factor brands fear lurking in the background will be the factor driving increased engagement.

Research from the Mintel COVID-19 Tracker found only one-third of US adults are comfortable having a drink indoors, with more than half comfortable dining outside. Additionally, more than half are not comfortable hosting gatherings in their home, and three in five are not comfortable attending a gathering in the home of another.

People will be watching from home, and watching from home in smaller groups. Most likely, the nuclear quarantine pods they’ve maintained throughout the pandemic.

“More people will be watching from home in much smaller groups, so my hope is advertisers’ messages will be heard and understood this year more than ever before,” said Marissa Kasner, Senior Director of Sales Strategy for USA Today’s Sports Media Group.

USA Today created the Super Bowl Ad Meter in 1989 to gauge consumers’ opinions about television’s most expensive commercials. Now in its 33rd year, the results have become the industry-leading tool used to measure public opinion surrounding Super Bowl ads.

“We’re adding a new component to the platform this year – Replay Ratings. Taking place Monday – Thursday following the game, Replay Ratings will award ‘superlatives’ to commercials like most comical, most action-packed, best teaser,” Kasner noted.

Advertisers Need Not Be on TV to Connect During the Game

Beyond the likely comical, action-packed, and teaser-filled, Ad Meter is capitalizing on a trend of Super Bowl viewership that brands too have found to be crucial for engagement – second-screen viewing. While consumers will be more engaged with the game and TV spots, few will be without their smartphones in hand to take breaks, talk with friends, etc. In year’s past we’ve seen brands like Rocket Mortgage, Burger King, and Olay build omnichannel campaigns designed to continue the experience and entertainment beyond the spot itself.

Brands who opted not to buy one of 77 national TV spots can still gain awareness and engagement from their target audience with creative flexes on social platforms like TikTok and Twitter, or gathering hubs like Fortnite and Animal Crossing.

Fan engagement through hybrid events

While Tampa Bay may be a winner on the field on game day, off the field, a potential loser for this year’s advertising dollars game is the city of Tampa Bay. The Cinderella of the NFC secured its hosting duties, a star quarterback, and was geared up for a week of in-person festivities leading up to February’s championship game. Due to restrictions on attendance and social distancing measures, many in-person experiences from brands were canceled or scaled back. However, this is where we may see some of the more inventive instances of event marketing this year. We predict brands will adopt hybrid events – giving NFL fans and those looking to partake in festivities the option to attend live events through virtual portals or secure more intimate experiences with brand creators.

While we can’t be sure of the emotional range of this year’s spots, we do know that advertisers who decided to run will be met with a rapt, engaged, cross-device audience hungry for new content – both on and off the field.

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