Amid the tackles, blocks and hits, the Super Bowl may also be the setting for some sweet competition.
For the first time in years, two different candy advertisers will take the field when Fox broadcasts Super Bowl XLVIII February 2nd from New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium. And in doing so, Butterfinger and a player-to-be-named later from chocolate juggernaut Mars Inc. could create yet another “category rivalry” that draws interest to the ad roster of the Big Game.
To be sure, the two candies may – like chocolate and peanut butter – go great together. After all, Mars has typically run its Super Bowl ad in recent years in the first half of the game, while Butterfinger is set to sprint in front of viewers sometime in the second half to introduce Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups, a new product, said Jeremy Vandervoet, brand manager of the Nestle chocolate candy.
And besides, the two may vie for different customer bases. Nestle will tilt more at Hershey, which makes Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, than it will either of the two candidates – Snickers or M&Ms – that Mars is at present considering putting in the game. Mars declined to comment on its Super Bowl plans.
Even so, “there is some tipping point” when the presence of a large number of Super Bowl advertisers in the same category starts to blur the promotional message from each one taking part, said Rama Yeklur, a professor of marketing at University of Eau Claire College of Business. In the 2011 Super Bowl, nine different automakers spent approximately $77.5 million on 18 different commercials, according to Kantar Media. In that year, “people just remembered the cars,” said Dr. Yelkur. “They didn’t remember the brands.”
It only takes two to tangle. Coca-Cola and Pepsi have vied with each other regularly since 2008, when Coke returned to the pigskin classic after many years of sitting on the sidelines. So powerful was Coke’s 2008 performance – replete with a heartwarming spot featuring balloons from Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade chasing a can of its fizzy brown favorite – that Pepsi worked to block Coca-Cola from advertising from the first half of Super Bowl XLIII in 2009.
Another category battle erupted in 1999, when two new online-recruitment sites, Yahoo Hotjobs and Monster, began to compete for the types of job advertising normally won by newspapers. By 2005, the two had turned to other advertising avenues, leaving the field clear for Careerbuilder to enjoy a seven-year solo run as a Super Bowl sponsor.
Mars has had the Super Bowl field all to itself for about a decade, estimates Dr. Yelkur, who has analyzed Super Bowl ad lineups since 1998 (though the candy maker stayed out of the contest in 2008, when Hershey’s made an appearance to tout Ice Breakers Ice Cube gum). Mars has used its time to enlist Betty White to hawk Snickers (2010); introduce an M&Ms character called “Ms. Brown” (2012); and, in an infamous commercial, showed two mechanics kissing by accident as they both ate the same Snickers bar (2007). The ad sparked protest among some groups that believed it promoted anti-gay prejudice, and Mars pulled the ad from rotation soon after its Super Bowl debut.
Now Butterfinger threatens to steal some of that spotlight. The company has spent more than two years developing a new entry into the peanut-butter cups wars, said Vandervoet, after noticing recipes passed around via social media that used a hint of Butterfinger candy as a topping or essential ingredient.
Sales of chocolate candy at supermarkets, drugstores, mass-market retailers, gas stations, military commissaries and select club and dollar retail chains came to about $12.6 billion, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm