Bolder Thinking Blog

Super Bowl LV spotlight: How brands navigated the COVID-19 Super Bowl

February 8th, 2021 | Nick Batt

Set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and all of its ramifications, this year’s Super Bowl was unlike any other — from the buildup and the game-day experience to the way brands leveraged the event on Super Bowl Sunday. For brands willing to persevere through the challenging production logistics brought about by COVID-19, Super Bowl LV served as a goldmine of potential consumer connection. This year several brands sought a tone different from the one usually seen during a normal year’s Super Bowl to connect with more than 100 million Americans.

After reviewing each brand’s omnichannel downfield attempts, analysts from Mintel Comperemedia and Mintel Reports have identified themes that emerged from this year’s Super Bowl marketing slate, and within each have noted the ads and strategies that reached the end zone, and the ones that doinked off the uprights.

Rookies make their mark

Even though plenty of big-name brands opted out of having a spot in this year’s Super Bowl, many first-time advertisers filled their space. Rookies like DoorDash, Klarna, more debuted their first time Big Game ads.

The increased presence of brands rooted in online services cannot be ignored as the e-commerce industry has boomed since the start of the pandemic; Mintel predicted a 28% increase in e-commerce in 2020 and nearly all consumers say they shop online at least once a month, according to Mintel research on emerging technologies in e-commerce. Appearing in the Super Bowl underscores the success that brands like online marketplace, Mercari, and website builder and host SquareSpace, have had this year.

One of the more controversial first-timers was online investing app, Robinhood, amid their role in the GameStop stock fiasco. Robinhood sought to position their brand as “opening America’s financial system to everyone,” despite scrutiny for their business practices that restricted trading on GameStop and AMC and hurt many small investors. Consumers will likely perceive the ad to be disingenuous as the brand is currently undergoing both a PR and identity crisis.

In contrast, Klarna’s ad featuring four Maya Rudolph’s on horseback effectively communicated the service’s main feature of four simple interest-free payments on purchases made with the app. According to Mintel’s Global COVID-19 tracker (January 4-15), their approach ought to resonate with one-third of US consumers who would describe their current financial situation as being “OK” but not having much money leftover at the end of the month.

Taking advantage of free real estate

One of the biggest advertisers in any year’s Super Bowl is the network that hosts the game itself. This year CBS had more than just new shows to promote –– it had a streaming service to sell.

ViacomCBS’s Paramount+ had a big presence throughout the game with humorous spots that aired in multiple quarters and likely generated considerable interest in the platform with nostalgia-evoking Viacom and CBS stars like Jeff Probst, Dora The Explorer, and Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi.

Additionally, ViacomCBS’s decision to lean heavily into the considerable amount of live sports the platform will have was a smart way to speak to sports fans across the country, most of whom were likely watching the Super Bowl at some point Sunday.

Through its campaign that went beyond content trailers, ViacomCBS this year wrote the blueprint that future Super Bowl broadcasters NBC and Fox can do for only production cost with their streaming services Peacock and Tubi, both of which have mass-market appeal and potential to grow.

Brands emphasize the importance of community

The Mintel Trend Driver, ‘Identity’ describes how consumers are motivated by a desire to be part of a group who share something in common and several brands tapped into that sense of community in their Super Bowl spots. The COVID-19 pandemic only heightened the importance of this type of belonging, especially for an event such as the Super Bowl where the typical gatherings of large groups of friends and family were significantly limited across the country. DoorDash, Reddit, and Anheuser-Busch all appealed to consumers by highlighting different sides of belonging to a community in their respective ads.

DoorDash emphasized all the various types of stores consumers can order from to support local businesses in their physical communities. The ad seeks to help consumers re-establish the connection with their local communities but also inspire people to support some of the businesses most impacted by the pandemic.

Reddit, hot off its enhanced publicity in the GameStop stock saga, had just a five-second ad for the big game in the mold of a Reddit post. In it, the social website stressed its offering of an online place for passionate people to meet and connect “around something they really care about.” Due to COVID-19, online communities are more important than ever and Reddit used its ad to remind consumers of the power of its forum communities.

Anheuser-Busch, in its ever first corporate Super Bowl ad, highlighted all the various work that the company has done for social and humanitarian communities in the past year. While the brewing company stressed the sense of community fostered by “grabbing a beer,” the ad did not differ in style from previous iterations of Budweiser campaigns. This made it feel like a Budweiser ad to millions of consumers, which placed a question mark on the true intentions of Anheuser-Busch’s announcement that it would back legacy advertiser Budweiser out of this year’s Super Bowl.

Consumers have numerous groups that they rely on and the pandemic has significantly impacted the ease of which people are able to engage within their communities. Supporting consumers and their communities is a strategic and necessary point of emphasis for brands both now and in the future.

What we think

Brands that were able to sensibly tie back their campaigns to a tangible product benefit regardless of COVID-19’s impact upon the brand — whether it be Klarna, DoorDash, Paramount+ or many others — all succeeded in driving consumer attention and interest. Consumers during this time continue to seek escape from their current realities, and the brands that focused on genuinely supporting them with their products while providing them entertainment that pleased most effectively made good use of their Super Bowl ad time.

Nick Batt is a Senior Research Analyst at Mintel Comperemedia, providing marketing insights through syndicated and custom reports in the telecom, financial services and sports marketing sectors, with a focus on emerging trends and new product innovation.

Hannah Keshishian is an Automotive Research Analyst at Mintel, providing insights into the automotive industry and focuses on emerging consumer trends, industry happenings, and the latest vehicle advancements.

Colin O’Brien is a Sports Consumer Insights Analyst at Mintel, providing research and writing reports on the world of sports in the US.

Nick Batt

Nick Batt

Nick provides marketing insights through syndicated and custom reports in the telecom, financial services and sports marketing sectors, with a focus on emerging trends and new product innovation.