Super Bowl: Which Advertisers, Media Face Greatest Pressure?

From PepsiCo to Stephen Colbert To GoDaddy, here's your guide to who and what to watch with an eye toward the business of the Big Game

Super Bowl: Which Advertisers, Media Face
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos aren’t the only entities who have a lot at stake when Super Bowl XLVIII debuts on Fox this Sunday (weather permitting).

With 30-second spots in the game going for around $4 million a pop, a lot of different media properties and sponsors are under extreme pressure to perform. Fox will want to do all it can to keep viewers tuned past halftime while taking advantage of the massive audience to hype everything from new programs to other ventures from its parent company, 21st Century Fox. Marketers will be under the gun to prove the millions they plunked down to appear in the game do more than generate retweets, Facebook likes and YouTube views. Social-media chatter is fun to note, but there’s little direct correlation between trending on Twitter and notching a revenue windfall for the first quarter.

Who’s feeling the heat? Variety looks at a range of players who will likely have sweat on the brow no matter how cold it may be in MetLife Stadium this Sunday:

Fox: The broadcaster’s ratings performance will help advertisers determine if Super Bowl viewership has room to grow or has hit a plateau.

For the last several years, the Super Bowl audience was on the upswing, first surpassing the record for the most-watched program of all time (CBS’s 1983 telecast of the “M*A*S*H” finale) in 2010, when it notched a viewership of about 106.5 million, and then growing more still.

Until last year, that is. That’s when a CBS broadcast of Super Bowl XLVII was marred by a 34-minute power outage. In 2013, an estimated 108.4 million people watched the CBS telecast, down from 111.3 million who tuned in to NBC a year earlier. A rise in viewership will give advertisers confidence the gridiron classic’s hefty price tag is worth it as big TV audiences continue to splinter. A dip could make things a little tougher for NBC, which will broadcast the event in 2015.

 Pepsi: The popular soda maker will test the value of the Super Bowl halftime show by cutting the commercials it has run throughout the game.

For more than two decades (give or take a year), the Super Bowl has been filled with multiple spots from Pepsi. Whether it’s a competitive poke at rival Coke, or a visit with Michael J. Fox or Justin Timberlake, Pepsi has been an integral member of the game’s ad roster.

In 2014, however, the beverage maker will forgo a lot of the hoopla and focus its efforts on the halftime show, which it is sponsoring for the second time in a row. Will a single 30-second spot and a few songs by Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers carry the day when a bunch of funny and celebrity-laden ads once did the same? The Super Bowl’s other ad pillar, Anheuser-Busch InBev, will no doubt be watching the results.

 Big Yogurt: At a time when people are snarfing down buffalo wings, nachos and soda, can this good-for-you option get people to change their habits?

Typically a place for soda showdowns, and snack-ad attacks, the Super Bowl this year will be the site of a yogurt war. Greek-yogurt upstart Chobani will throw down with Dannon’s Oikos, returning to the Super Bowl ad roster after taking a year off (it debuted in 2012). Chobani will send a healthy-snack craving bear up against a Dannon-backed reunification of the cast of the old ABC series “Full House.”

 “New Girl” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”: If these two shows, set to air after the post-game show, can’t convert part of the Super Bowl crowd into regular watchers after “Girl’s”continued buzz and “Brooklyn’s’” surprise Golden Globe, there may not be much more Fox can do.

There’s no guarantee a Super Bowl can transform a budding series into a hit or transform a critically acclaimed program into a blockbuster. Among the well-liked programs that have gotten a Super Bowl berth: ABC’s “Alias” and CBS’ “Undercover Boss.” The game has also served as launching pad for ABC’s “The Wonder Years” and NBC’s “Homicide:Life on the Street.”

Stephen Colbert: The faux-outraged host of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” regularly flogs products on his show, but does he have the stuff that pitchmen are made of?

Super Bowl XLVIII may well serve as a test. Yes, celebrities have always used the occasion, but more often than not, they are decidedly C-list: South Korean rapper Psy for Wonderful Pistachios or Kim Kardashian for Skechers. In recent years, that has begun to change. Did Clint Eastwood’s patriotic appearance on behalf of Chrysler in 2012 spur new thoughts about top-flight stars making a run in commercials?

In 2014, Scarlett Johansson will hold forth for SodaStream while Arnold Schwarzenegger and Don Cheadle will add forth to the usual commercial suds for Anheuser-Busch InBev.

For his part, Colbert will serve as spokesman in the 2014 Bowl for Wonderful Pistachios, an advertiser that has in the past relied on such notables as Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi from “Jersey Shore” or the Harlem Globetrotters. Will the game-day masses thrill to Colbert in the same way the young guys who watch him on Comedy Central do?

Ford Motor Co.: Can this automobile advertiser that typically avoids the Super Bowl get good results from a spot that airs just before the game starts?

As rivals like General Motors and Chrysler have invested heavily in the Super Bowl, Ford has largely remained out of the fray. Even a 2012 Chevy ad depicting a group of Silverado-driving apocalypse survivors that took a smack at Ford (people who drove Fords didn’t make it through the disaster) could not compel the company to join the 2013 roster and return fire (though its Lincoln division has been a sponsor). With so many car companies advertising in the game – Chevrolet, Kia, Hyundai, Toyota. Volkswagen, Audi and Jaguar –Ford has seized an opportunity by taking an ad berth that will be shown just after the coin toss but right before kickoff. The ad likely costs Ford a chunk less than a spot in the game itself, but could make more of an impression than the handfuls of car spots that will follow all night long.

SodaStream: If you need Coca Cola and Pepsi to drive attention to your own soda commercial, you might want to rethink your premise.

For the second consecutive year, SodaStream is using an old play from the Super Bowl advertising manual. The company has devised a commercial it knows will not be played on a broadcast network – and then uses the network’s refusal to air the spot to generate publicity and stoke anticipation for what will inevitably be a watered-down effort.

The company, which sells equipment that lets people make their own carbonated beverages, wants consumers to think of its product as a great way to avoid the mountains of empty and environment-choking Coke bottles and Pepsi cans that inevitably litter the landscape once someone consumers one of those companies’ treats. But CBS quashed the idea last year and Fox has done the same thing in 2014 (odd, since Pepsi has used the Super Bowl over the years to take indirect potshots at Coke). Which means SodaStream must edit its ad in the days before the game.

Would SodaStream’s commercial be as much fun if this behind-the-scenes contretemps didn’t come to light? Or can the company make a pitch that burnishes its brand without tarnishing those of others?

 GoDaddy: Is a company that made its Super Bowl bones off being raunchy anywhere near as interesting when it decides to take the buttoned-down route?

This Internet domain-name registrar used the Super Bowl to establish a mainstream brand for a rather esoteric kind of business. And it did it using ads with lo-fi production values, scantily clad women, and a CEO who wasn’t afraid to take to the web when he felt he wasn’t able to do as much on TV as he thought viewers might like.

Things have changed since company founder Bob Parsons launched GoDaddy’s Super Bowl ads in 2005. Last year, a group of venture-capital firms took over the Web hosting company and the line on this year’s ad is that it will look more like the other commercials that surround it. Deutsch, the large Interpublic Group ad agency that came up with the famous “Darth Vader” Super Bowl ad for Volkswagen, is now also working for GoDaddy.

Bill O Reilly: His popularity on Fox News Channel is fueled by his low tolerance for people who won’t answer his questions, but can this opinionated host work his way through the delicate task of interviewing a sitting president in front of the broadest possible television audience?

It’s never easy interviewing the President in front of the Super Bowl pre-game crowd: On a day when people are relaxing in front of their TV set, how much room do viewers have for antagonism or heated debate? No wonder The White House has eagerly seized upon this opportunity for many years. But O’Reilly’s appeal comes in not asking softball questions and pushing back when his queries don’t bring answers. Whatever the result of the interview, the tightrope act alone will make for fascinating viewing.